baby formula, baby formula milk
Associated Press

Thousands More Chinese Infants Sickened in Milk Scare

September 22, 2008 05:35 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
Many more infants in China have become sick from contaminated baby formula, but officials say U.S. consumers are still safe.

Baby Formula Causing Kidney Stones

Nearly 53,000 infants in China who consumed the Chinese-made 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 formula 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. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that the information was withheld from the public while the Beijing Olympics took place. The New Zealand dairy farmers' cooperative Fonterra, which owns a portion of Sanlu, said it urged action in recalling the tainted milk six weeks ago. 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.

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.

Related Topic: Infant, child safety issues

Reference: Infant nutrition


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