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U.S. Working to Keep Tainted Milk Out of the Country

Sep 22, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The Associated Press is reporting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to broaden its investigative focus on food shipments from China in the wake of a massive, ongoing tainted baby formula and dairy scandal that is occurring there.

While the United States has been spared the current contamination, the FDA is adding precautions to ensure tainted milk products are kept out of this country.  The FDA has investigators at increased ports of entry and are looking at shipments of bulk food ingredients from Asia that are derived from milk, including milk concentrate and whole milk powder.  FDA spokeswoman Judy Leon added that the FDA is also going to be issuing an alert to warn consumers not to buy milk products from China on the Internet. “We know it’s possible to purchase Chinese products on the Internet, and we want to make sure people do not purchase infant formula or any product containing milk or milk derivatives,” said Leon.

This new contamination came to consumer and authority attention when it was found that infant formula was tainted with the toxic chemical melamine after babies in China were falling seriously ill and dying.  Since, it has been discovered that other products ranging from bottled milk to yogurt have also been contaminated with melamine.  Now, over 6,200 Chinese children have fallen ill with kidney problems, including kidney stones, which are extremely rare in children, after ingesting the formula.  Four babies have also died as a result.

Melamine, which can trigger kidney failure, is the chemical found in contaminated pet food exports last year that caused the illness of hundreds and the death of thousands of U.S. pets.  Melamine has no nutritional value and is used in plastics, fertilizers, fire retardants, and cleaning products.  Because of its high nitrogen levels, melamine can make protein levels of diluted milk appear higher.

Sanlu Group is the firm at the center of the scandal and reportedly received complaints about its formula as early as March; tests revealed the contamination by early August.  It took Sanlu until September 11—after its New Zealand stakeholder, Fonterra, told its government, which then informed the Chinese government—to go public with a recall.  Suppliers trying to cut costs are believed to have added melamine to diluted milk to cover up the protein deficiency.  In addition to Sanlu, China’s quality control watchdog reports that one-fifth of companies producing milk powder in China had melamine in their products.  A total of 18 people have been arrested over the scandal and the police there said six suspects allegedly sold melamine, while the rest are accused of adding melamine to milk.

The AP reports that tainted formula has not been found in the U.S. and, “In conjunction with state and local authorities, we have inspected more than 1,000 retail outlets and have found not one single can of Chinese infant formula,” Leon said.  Infant formula is closely regulated in the United States and there are currently no Chinese companies authorized to export to the US.  Regardless, the FDA is sampling bulk shipments of milk-derived products from Asia, including whole milk powder, whey powder, milk concentrate, lactose, casein protein, and other milk derivatives said Leon.

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