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Third Baby Dies, Exports Tested in Massive China Baby Formula Scandal

Sep 17, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Tainted baby formula from China was sold to other countries and the industrial chemical, melamine, responsible for three infants deaths and 6,000 infant injuries has also been found in ice cream.  The Associated Press is reporting that China’s latest product safety scandal has been expanded to include more foods; state media is reporting some formula produced by companies involved was exported and a nationwide inspection of the 175 Chinese baby milk powder companies revealed 22 had traces of melamine in their products.  Melamine is commonly used in coatings and laminates, wood adhesives, fabric coatings, ceiling tiles, and flame-retardants.

The mounting scandal is yet another embarrassing failure for China’s product safety system, which was overhauled to restore consumer confidence and preserve export markets after recalls and warnings over tainted toothpaste, faulty tires, pharmaceuticals, and other goods.  Now, the Associated Press reports that food distributer, Yashili, exported products to Bangladesh, Yemen, and Myanmar; in Hong Kong, food inspectors ordered a recall after melamine was found in ice cream made by Shanghai Yili AB Foods.   In 2004, fake baby formula killed 12 and sickened 200 in the second major, recent case involving baby formula.  Last year, thousands of American pets fell ill—many died—after eating melamine-tainted food imported from China.  Last October, nearly 70,000 Chinese-made toys were recalled in the United States over excessive lead issues.  In November, the popular toy, Aqua Dots, was tainted with a toxic chemical that metabolized into the date rape drug when swallowed.  And, in February, a Maryland candy distribut
or pulled Pokemon-brand metal-laden Valentine lollipops.

The recent scandal indicates issues went undetected for months.  On May 1st, a five-month-old baby boy died; on July 22nd, an eight-month-old baby girl died; and Vice Health Minister Ma Xiaowei said 1,253 infants were sickened, typically after developing kidney stones.  This is more than twice the number previously acknowledged.  Of those, 340 remain hospitalized and 53 cases were considered especially severe.  A third baby just died and over 6,200 children have been sickened, up 1,200 from yesterday.  Over 1,300 infants were hospitalized with illnesses such as malnutrition, kidney stones, and acute renal failure.

Sanlu—the company at the center of the scandal—fired its general manager and dismissed him from its board.  Four men have been arrested; police earlier arrested two brothers who ran a milk collection center and are accused of watering down milk to increase volume then adding melamine, selling about three tons of contaminated milk daily.  The brothers could face death if convicted.  The raw milk was watered down and melamine was added to fool quality checks.  Investigators said the brothers confessed, saying they tainted the product to recover losses when the factory rejected earlier milk shipments.  The brothers are charged with producing and selling toxic and hazardous food, which carries a possible death penalty.  Health experts say ingesting melamine can lead to kidney stones, urinary tract ulcers, and eye and skin irritation.

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