baby formula, baby formula milk
Associated Press

Chinese Milk Producer Asked for Help with Cover-up

October 02, 2008 10:00 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
The Chinese media reported that a milk producer asked for government help with "managing" the reporting of the tainted milk scandal.

Minimizing Media Coverage


Sanlu Group, the manufacturer involved in China's tainted milk trouble, reportedly asked the Chinese government for help controlling media coverage of the incident before the Olympics took place. According to Reuters, the Reporters Without Borders organization stated that Beijing had requested the situation be kept quiet before the Games.

In a statement, the group said, "Several Chinese journalists have said that it is becoming more and more obvious that the authorities in July prevented an investigation in the toxic milk coming out so as not to tarnish China's image before the Olympics."

The Reuters article quotes government spokesman Wang Jianguo as saying, "The bungling of the best opportunity to report up the handling of the issue caused much harm to people's safety, and seriously affected the image of the Party and the government."

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 27 people have been arrested because of the contamination.

Baby Formula Causing Kidney Stones

Nearly 53,000 infants in China who consumed the Sanlu baby formula have developed kidney stones or become sick, and FDA officials in the United States want Chinese-American communities to avoid using the product if they have it. A majority of the affected children received outpatient treatment for their illness and had "basically recovered," according to the Ministry of Health. Almost 13,000 have been treated in the hospital after drinking the milk.

Importing Chinese-made baby formula is illegal, and officials say they don’t think the Sanlu product has found its way to the United States yet. However, there was an instance where a Chinese-manufactured formula was discovered in a store in New York in 2004.
The Sanlu product contains melamine, the same type of plastic found in pet foods that affected thousands of cats and dogs several months ago. In food, melamine can give “the appearance of a high nitrogen level, which is an index used to measure the protein content,” a health expert said in a Xinhua news article. But when consumed, melamine can cause reproductive damage, or bladder or kidney stones. The milk suppliers are believed to have watered down the milk to increase volume, and then added melamine to make up for nutritional losses.

China’s Health Ministry has warned that those responsible for the contamination will receive “heavy punishment.” Officials have questioned dozens of people who could have been involved in the milk powder contamination, including dairy farmers and milk dealers. Sanlu won’t disclose whether its own employees are being investigated.

Complaints about the formula were apparently filed with Sanlu as early as March. However, Chinese officials reported they didn't know about the problem until a few days ago. The New Zealand dairy farmers' cooperative Fonterra, which owns a portion of Sanlu, said it urged action in recalling the tainted milk weeks earlier. Fonterra is the world's biggest milk trader.

China's food safety chief has resigned from his post since the milk contamination was made public.

Calls for Product Bans

Countries around the world are taking steps to keep contaminated Chinese-made milk products from reaching their consumers. More than 12 countries in Asia and Africa have banned dairy imports from China; Canada, Yemen, Japan and Hong Kong have recalled other food items that could be dangerous to consume.

Suspicions of contamination have moved beyond just milk products to foods that contain milk as an ingredient, such as candies, cakes and cream. The European Union has proposed to test all imported products from China that contain more than 50 percent milk powder; random testing of products already on shelves would also take place. "As far as we know, for the moment, no contaminated products are on the European market," EU spokeswoman Nina Papadoulaki said in a Bloomberg article. The EU doesn't import Chinese dairy products like milk and yogurt, but does import items such as cookies and chocolate, which may contain milk.

Taiwan's government had decided to continue allowing the sale of Chinese milk products in the country. The resulting public outrage prompted the resignation of Taiwan's health minister, Lin Fang-yue. He had only been in his job for four months.

U.S. Formulas Safe, Hong Kong Reports a Victim

U.S.-produced baby formulas are not at risk of contamination, Janice Oliver, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a Reuters article. The five approved makers of milk-based formula reported that they do not use ingredients from China. Reuters listed those producers as Abbott Nutrition, MeadJohnson Nutritionals, Nestle USA, PBM Nutritionals and Solus Products.

Officials say they have visited hundreds of specialty stores in the United States, and haven't found any contaminated baby formula from China, according to "We need all hands on deck to keep this dangerous contamination from reaching U.S. consumers," New York Senator Charles Schumer said in a statement. "Black-market Chinese goods and food regularly slip through lax international and domestic inspections."

On Sept. 20, Hong Kong reported that a 3-year-old girl had developed a kidney stone after drinking milk produced by China's Yili dairy that was contaminated with melamine. On Sept. 21, Hong Kong announced that it had found melamine in Chinese-made Nestle brand milk.

Background: The fake milk scandal

This isn’t the first time Chinese consumers have faced a baby formula scare. In 2004, several infants suffered from malnourishment after receiving “fake milk,” according to the BBC. The nutritional value of some of the powder was so poor that it contained just one-sixth of the protein and other nutrients babies need to develop properly. Some infants were so malnourished after drinking the milk that they developed what doctors called “big head disease,” and others died.

Reference: Infant nutrition


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