Tainted Milk Trial Starts in ChinaDec 26, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Six men in China are being tried and have been accused of making and selling melamine, says the BBC. Melamine-tainted milk formula has been blamed for sickening hundreds of thousands of children and killing six infants in that country. The men have been accused of adding melamine to raw milk to raise its protein levels, said the BBC.
Melamine is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of fertilizer, fire retardants, and plastics and has been at the center of a global scandal originating in China over the adulteration of a wide variety of food products with an array of dangerous contaminants. In particular, melamine has been used in that country to falsify protein levels. Because melamine contains such high nitrogen contents, it can be used to make certain foods—for instance intentionally diluted milk products—appear high in protein in certain tests, enabling producers and manufacturers to pass off sub-standard products as protein-rich. In sufficient quantities, ingesting melamine can cause kidney problems, including kidney stones and kidney failure, and in the case of at least six children, death. The melamine milk scandal first broke after tens of thousands of Chinese babies were sickened, hospitalized, or died as a result of melamine contamination.
The Associated Press (AP) noted that the melamine scandal was first reported early this fall; however, China’s government confirmed that the Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group Co., a dairy firm and key participant in the melamine scandal, knew last year that its products were tainted and also was aware that company and local officials had been involved in a cover-up. Now, the BBC is reporting that Sanlu has been declared bankrupt. According to Xinhua, said the BBC, Sanlu has 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) of net debt. BBC also said that Fonterra, New Zealand's largest dairy conglomerate and former holder of a 43 percent stake in Sanlu, said Sanlu would be managed by a court-appointed receiver that would sell off Sanlu’s assets and repay creditors over the next six months; Fonterra wrote off its $114m investment in Sanlu.
The BBC said that China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported that police there said that Zhang Yujun and Zhang Yanzhang illegally made and sold a "protein powder" composed mainly of melamine and malt dextrin; state television there showed film of the two men in court in handcuffs, their heads lowered, being questioned by three judges. The two are responsible for the largest source of melamine in China, said the BBC, which reported that police discovered the men’s illegal workshop in which they made 600 tons of the toxic chemical. The trial started today and could last a decade, said the BBC, which said the courts are rejecting lawsuits filed by families despite that kidney damage was reported in hundreds of thousands of people.
Melamine has been found in dozens of products exported globally from China including milk teas and coffees, yogurts, candies, cookies, biscuits, cheese, eggs, and crackers, prompting international recalls. It is believed eggs became contaminated following feed contamination, which has since been linked to certain livestock, including chickens and pigs. Although initial figures indicated about 50,000 children fell ill from melamine contamination, the Chinese government finally released information confirming that nearly 300,000 babies fell ill in that country with urinary and kidney problems linked to melamine tainting.