Chinese Milk Tragedy Intensifies | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: September 24, 2008

Chinese Milk Tragedy Intensifies

Government officials lose their jobs as number of victims multiplies in contaminated milk scandal
Department: Government & Policy

The baby-food contamination crisis in China continues to escalate. Four infants are now confirmed to have died after drinking milk made from milk powder tainted with melamine, according to the country's official news agency, Xinhua. Nearly 13,000 children have been hospitalized, with 100 showing serious symptoms, and another 40,000 have been treated, China's Ministry of Health announced on Sept. 21. Li Changjiang, head of the country's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection & Guarantee, resigned the following day.

Melamine, which causes kidney stones and kidney failure, is used to make plastics, fertilizers, and other products but is not approved as an ingredient in food. Milk dealers in China allegedly watered down their milk and then added the nitrogen-rich compound to boost the diluted milk's apparent protein content, according to Xinhua. Chinese officials have arrested the dealers and their melamine suppliers, initiated recalls of the tainted milk products, and fired several local officials. The government has also rescinded food inspection exemptions that some companies with a good safety record—including the major dairy product company Sanlu—had previously been granted.

Melamine has been detected in milk powder produced by 22 companies, but the worst contamination was found in Sanlu's. An official investigation revealed that Sanlu covered up the problem for months, Xinhua reports. The head of the company, Tian Wenhua, has been fired, arrested, and charged with producing toxic food. She could face life in prison or even the death penalty if found guilty.

Melamine has also been found in a few samples of liquid milk in China, but Xinhua reports that medical experts believe the low levels involved won't harm adults who drink less than 2 L per day.

Although Chinese baby food isn't legally available in the U.S., the Food & Drug Administration continues to test food samples and monitor retail stores to make sure that products derived from Chinese milk aren't on grocery shelves in the U.S.

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