Three Chinese Dairy Companies Apologize for Milk ScandalOct 13, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Three Chinese dairy companies have publicly apologized for their involvement in the ongoing and enormous toxic milk scandal in that country. Melamine contaminations have led to four deaths and tens of thousands of illnesses and hospitalizations and have caused an epidemic of global recalls of Chinese-made products such as cheese, ice cream, yogurt, biscuits, milk tea, instant coffee, dairy drinks, and candies.
Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, Mengniu Dairy, and Bright Dairy Group are three of the dairy companies initially found to have produced milk contaminated with melamine. "I feel I have let everybody down. I have done so much, yet still done wrong," Monday's Beijing News quoted Mengniu's marketing chief, Zhao Yuanhua, as saying on state television. Meanwhile, Zhao and executives from Mengniu and Bright Dairy also promised consumers that their products prices would not rise to compensate for the higher costs of quality controls. The international scandal has shattered the companies' share prices and drove Starbucks Corporation to pull Mengniu milk from its stores.
Melamine is a chemical that has gained notoriety in recent years for its ability to cheat nutrition tests; the chemical was originally designed to make plastics, fertilizer, and fire retardants. Because melamine possesses high nitrogen contents, it is used to falsify protein levels in foods; the toxic chemical was added to watered-down baby formula to create the impression of high protein levels in the diluted products. Melamine can cause kidney problems—including kidney stones and kidney failure—when ingested and is also to blame for the illnesses of some 54,000 children in China.
Chinese health officials last week said that nearly 10,700 infants and children remained hospitalized after drinking toxic milk and formula, with many remaining in serious condition; over 36,000 other children had been treated and released. The China Ministry of Agriculture continues sending quality teams across the country to monitor the crackdown at milk stations and with animal feed producers. "Supervise and urge local authorities to investigate and punish the illegal use of melamine and other toxins, and other unlawful adulteration," the ministry said. Experts believe approximately 94,000 others may also be affected by melamine-tainted dairy products.
In response to the ongoing melamine contamination problem that originated in China, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has increased inspections and product testing efforts and warned Chinese communities in the U.S. that infant formula manufactured in China, possibly available in Asian markets, could pose a risk to infants and is also advising consumers not to purchase infant formula made in China from Internet sites or other sources. The FDA contacted companies that manufacture infant formula for distribution in the U.S. and received confirmation that they are not importing formula or sourcing milk-based materials from China. The FDA—collaborating with state and local officials—began a nation-wide investigation of Asian markets for Chinese manufactured infant formula that may have been brought into the U.S., with a focus on Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York due to their large Asian communities. Investigators have visited over 1,800 retail markets. The FDA is also working closely with Customs and Border Protection within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other federal agencies, and foreign governments.