Health Alert (4) : Mixing Melamine and Milk

If you think that only milk and milk products with only Chinese names are contaminated with melamine, the results released by the Center For Food Safety of Hong Kong as reported by China Daily yesterday raised the possibility that the practice may be more widespread.

Of 65 different brands tested, one contained melamine at a level of 1.4 ppm(parts per million), the safety limit being 6.3 mg per kg body weight per day. While the level detected is below the safety limit, it was enough for the authorities to have it removed from the shelves. However, to allay concerns, this product, named as Nestle Dairy Farm Pure Milk (Catering Use Only), was actually manufactured on the Chinese mainland.

The recent outbreak in mainland China was reported widely in the media the last 2 weeks and to date, 53,000 babies are affected, 13,000 hospitalised and 4 have died , and counting..

Melamine - the high content of nitrogen(blue dots) are similar to that of amino-acids which make up protein

Melamine is used in making plastics and is loaded with nitrogen molecules. Because of the high nitrogen content, this makes milk products appear to have a higher protein count as the current methods of measuring protein are based on measuring the nitrogen content alone.  Health experts say that ingesting small amounts does no harm, but sustained use especially in babies and children can cause kidney stones and renal failure, as melamine is insoluble in the human body and tends to deposit itself in the kidneys which cannot remove it from the system via the urine.

But why add melamine in the first place? This allows milk to be diluted with water by the unscrupulous and the greedy to give more volume.  The ‘protein’ levels are then built up back by adding the protein substitute (melamine).

A burning issue is that, while the NZ government raised this issue as early as March this year, no action was taken by the Chinese government. One of the reasons quoted by some newspapers was that the Chinese government had issued a 21-point plan to all journalists covering the Olympics to avoid taboo subjects, including food safety issues (point 8). A sort of news censorship to put the Beijing Olympics in a spotless stage.  I guess I should add the melamine issue as an addition to my series of earlier posts on “Beijing Olympics Face Major Health Issues”…. 😦

Update(26/9/08): From milk to sweets: The popular White Rabbit candy, which is distributed worldwide, was tested positive for melamine in Singapore. The manufacturers Guanshengyuan have now halted export of this sweet.

Update (02/10/2008): The Melamine Milk Mess – Other Foods Have Been Banned,too

Update (08/10/2008): Not enough: Despite assurances of  new melamine-free milk from the Chinese authorities and a clamp-down on guilty parties, Thailand’s FDA today still found melamine in newly imported milk. See here.

Update (13/10/2008): China’s watchdog on quality GAQSIQ today reported that no traces of melamine have been detected in the 4th round of tests since the outbreak. Sofar,1209 batches have been tested since Sep 14 and none contained melamine, it added. See here.

Update (16/10/08): Switzerland yesterday withdrew S&P Milk Cookies which were made in Thailand. This would be the first food source outside of China to contain significant melamine content, although it is still unclear if the milk used was originally from China. See here. Another startling revelation today is that Thailand’s FDA has detected high melamine in condensed skimmed milk  (Mali Brand) whose manufacturers claim they sourced milk from countries other than China. See here and here.

Update (21/10/08): It looks like melamine has found its way into foods other than milk. A raising agent used in making cookies (called ammonium carbonate) has been found spiked with melamine in Taiwan and Malaysia. Nowadays, ammonium carbonate has been replaced by baking soda in most cookie factories, but some still retain the former due to its inexpensiveness.

Update (24/10/08): Consumer confidence regarding drug & food safety watchdogs appeared further shaken with the news that the European Union has banned a popular recently-introduced slimming pill Acomplia. See my post here.

Update (26/10/08): Singapore today banned some more biscuits and cookies originating from China and Malaysia. Get more details here.

Update (27/10/08): Its now eggs.. China has discovered hen’s eggs to  be contaminated with twice the permitted levels of melamine. The implication here is that chicken too may be affected as the suspicion is that melamine has been added to animal feed. See here.

Update (1/11/08): The Chinese state-run media yesterday published a report saying the illegal practice of mixing melamine into animal feed to boost its apparent protein levels was an “open secret” in the food industry. This has spurred a series of law-suits by affected families. See here.

Update (4/11/08): The tainting of milk with melamine has been an open secret in China for many years, except that users were told it was ‘protein powder’ instead. An excellent overview by the Wall Street Journal is found here.

Update (6/11/08): Another brand of cream crackers made in Malaysia has been found to contain more than the acceptable amount of melamine, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of Thailand said yesterday.See here.

Update (7/11/08): China hits back… as its health authorities released a list of foreign food products which were imported into China and banned for not meeting its health standards. This includes milk products from Australia! See here.

Update (14/11/08): The United States has prevented the entry of a broad range of foods from China which have been implicated to contain melamine, a move which is unprecedented. Read here.

Update (16/11/08): Find out how China has disposed off the thousands of tons of melamine-tainted milk in my new posting.

Update (25/11/08): Well, what do you know! Traces of melamine were found in infant formula milk in the USA which were not originating from China. Expect to hear more. Meanwhile, see here.

Update (28/11/08): Two brands of milk made in USA have been named by FDA: Mead Johnson’s Infant Formula Powder and Enfamil LIPIL. And calls for a national recall of infant formula milk in the US are now spreading. Read here.

Update (30/11/08): In the face of mounting criticism, the US FDA has revised their guidelines on what constitutes safe levels by declaring melamine levels at below 1 ppm to be safe for infants. See here.

Update (02/12/08): For the first time since the outbreak, China has released the latest figures: a total of 294,000 (!) have been taken ill, 51,900 required hospital treatment and 6 have died. Click here.

Update (03/12/08): Saudi Arabia has now joined the list of affected countries. Read my posting here.

Update (06/12/08): Finally! WHO issued safety limits for melamine levels in food.  The so-called Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) has been fixed at 0.2 mg per kilogramme of body weight. See here.

Update (10/12/08): To date, Australia has withdrawn 11 food products from its shelves. See the list here.

Update (17/12/08): China has listed 17 harmful food additives to be banned. See the main ones here.

Update (23/12/08): The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just announced another recall of a another food product over melamine contamination.See here.

Update (29/12/08): 22 dairy producers in China have been asked by the Chinese government to come up with compensation totalling close to US 2 billion. Families who lost babies will get US$30,000 while those who were hospitalised will get US$4,500. Read more.

Update (03/01/09): In a surprising turnaround of events, parents of children affected by the milk scandal were detained by Chinese authorities. Read more.

Update (10/01/09): FDA melanine guideline levels are unsafe, say US consumer group. See here.

Update(14/01/09): The final toll? A total of 296,000 babies fell sick. 52,898 infants needed to be hospitalized with 52,582 of the babies being cured and at least six dying. 6 had already died. See here.

Update(23/01/09): A few days before the Chinese New Year, Chinese courts have sentenced 2 to death and the former head of Sanlu milk company to life. But the affected parents remain unhappy. Read here.

Update(02/02/09): While the former head of Sanlu is appealing her life sentence, New Zealand’s Prime Minister has said that the Chinese milk scandal has damaged NZ’s image.

Update (11/02/09) : Its payback time and China goes on the offensive. See my latest blog article here.

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23 responses

  1. First toys, now milk, China should stop contaminate children’s product already.

    it’s ridiculous i read on the news that the fresh milk suppliers don’t even dare to feed his own baby with his own milk cause he knew it is harmful to human body.

    kchan

    Doctor2008 says: I guess this is a timely reminder to mothers of infants that breast is best. The milk, I mean.

  2. Hi Doc,
    Thanks for the updates. I’m now really concerned about those locally produced 3 in 1 coffee etc..wonder where they source their milk from??
    Been taking Immunocal for years now to optimize my Glutathione levels!
    What is your opinion of Glutathione?
    Best wishes..

    Doctor2008 says : The key is really determining that the source of milk is from China, though,to be fair, there are over 50 brands which have been certified melamine-free.
    Glutathione? You need your body to produce it, so there’s not much point taking it by mouth as a supplement as it will be broken down by your digestive system.

  3. wow…all those olympians in Beijing 2008….their bodies must be filled mith the melamine. God knows how much milk these people drank there. They were not just bringing back medals and sweet memories, but also melamine!

  4. everything from china is suspect, what about those illegal but openly sold product like medicine (sidewalk), healthfood and other. gov should do something

  5. Dr,

    I woory about our product here… All the company said is that our product is SAFE and no milk is imported from China…..

    But the real Issue is…is it Melamine Free??? No one state this!! I am worry

    Concerned Parent !

  6. Thank you for this post. I have been following the milk scare in China, and just knew it would reach the rest of the world eventually. Just as the heparin problem did a while back.

    I found you via Rocky’s Bru – and I am glad I did. So much to read and learn. Thank you.

    Pat

  7. I have had my suspicions about products from China. My biggest worry now is that we’re consuming a LOT of vegetables from there too. All the hypermarkets are selling them… from cabbages to chillies… what do you think is the best way in handling i.e. cleaning/soaking/brushing? these veggies to at least get rid of whatever residue pesticides that may be present, doc?

    Doctor2008 says: Screening agencies like the Centre for Food Safety in Hong Kong and the Food Safety and Inspection Service in the USA have an extremely important role to prevent such foods from reaching consumers. More governments should seriously consider this.
    Washing veggies is not very efficient as chemicals would have been absorbed deep inside by then.

  8. Everything from China sucks except may be China dolls.

  9. Why am I not surprised. When I was visiting US, there was a boycott of China toys, then their pets eating China produced pet food started to die. then their house paint from China had too much lead. Then I read of the fake baby-milk formula scandal in China and Chinese babies dying of malnutrition. Then I read of their exported meat like luncheon reddened by cancer-causing red dyes. Then I read of seafood preserved using formaldehyde, the chemical our embalmers use on corpses. Then I read of Singapore destroying Chinese food imports including 2 million century eggs as they contain cancer-causing agents.
    When will China learn? To lead a healthy life, one needs not only good medical advice, good nutritionists and good doctors. One must also have a free society where such shenanigans cannot be swept under the carpet. It seems a free press, a strong consumer movement and a consumer-conscious society are also preconditions for a healthy life.
    Yes, I agree, breast milk is best BUT what if the mother’s body is already contaminated by toxins, poisons and cancer-causing food which she inadvertently consume everyday?

  10. Tok Cik above said: Everything from China sucks except may be China dolls.

    I don’t agree with the above. I think most of them do!! 😉

  11. “Breast is best”.

    Dear Doctor, I think our Health Ministry should adopt that line as a national slogan. Make sure they pay you royalty.

    Thank you, and please keep us all informed.

  12. The world should boycott China products.

    They even compromise on health just to get rich.

    The Beijing Olympics little “cute” girl singer is also just front for the real singer.

    Sshheeesshh …

  13. Hi – re Rosa’s comment – I agree. In my blog over a week ago on “As for me and my house, no Made-in-China food”, I stated why I stopped buying garlic from China even though NZ garlic cost 3x as much per kg! If you buy food for your family, it is best to get only those you can count on — lucky for me, NZ is a relatively clean, green country and there are many organic shops around — although a lot more expensive than non organic food.

  14. Dr,

    Is “PediaSure complete ~ vanila” from Abbott safe to consume ?

    Please advise , thank you !

    Doctor2008 says: The thing to look out for right now is whether the product was made in China. If it is, the Chinese government has issued a list of whats safe and what’s not. If not, the authorities in most countries are embarking on food testing of all milk products anyway. There is a certified list of contaminated milk (and non-contaminated milk) being issued by most countries.

  15. Health Ministry’s list of safe milk products

    http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/9/23/nation/20080923192631&sec=nation

    According to the listed item in Malaysia , Abbott product not in the list.
    So how can I check further ?

    Thanks and please advise.

    Doctor2008 says: See if the list becomes updated soon (it should). For the list from Ministry of Health Malaysia, see http://fsq.moh.gov.my/modules/news/. Otherwise, contact the distributors.

  16. It is nice that a public opinion is generated on Chinese milk—hope we look at our own adulterous greedy traders also–Infact those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others—

  17. Astonished Malaysian | Reply

    I have been informed by a pharmacist friend that pro-biotics which are now a popular and expensive supplement to aid digestion and bowel movement are derived from dairy products of unknown origin. The Health Ministry must make it compulsory for all pharmaceutical importers who bring in pro-biotics to declare the origin of the dairy products. If they cannot produce proper certification, should ban immediately!

  18. Abbott Nutrition Statement on Infant Formula Contamination in China
    September 18, 2008

    Abbott Park, IL —

    Abbott Nutrition extends its sympathy to all the children and families affected by the recent contamination of infant formula in China. As one of the most respected names in nutritional products, we understand the trust that mothers and health care professionals all over the world put in nutritional products — especially those used by infants and children. Abbott remains committed to ensuring product quality, safety and integrity in all our infant formulas.

    Abbott infant formulas are made in the United States, New Zealand and Europe. Abbott and our suppliers do not use milk or milk protein from China. As a result, our products are not impacted by the current situation in China, and no Abbott products have been found to contain melamine.

    To speak with an Abbott Nutrition customer service representative, please call 1-800-227-5767.

  19. Although only one of my children is still drinking powdered milk, this worldwide milk scare really gives me goose bumps. All of us are subjected to somekind of dairy products, such as milk in tea or coffee, cooking cream, etc on a daily basis. Can you imagine what will become of us if manufacturers or producers don’t even care of what they put into milk? These people when convicted should be severely punished!

  20. Milk and milk product companies are mixing melamine from unknown period. My question is “Why this act will not be considered as a crime against humanity?”

  21. Zakir said:
    My question is “Why this act will not be considered as a crime against humanity?”

    Well, my view is that foodstuff will always have some amount of melamine,as evidenced by the acceptance of a legal limit not exceeding 1ppm.

    Secondly, the real crime against humanity is mankind using animal milk as a substitute for mother’s milk which God gave!

  22. It is too bad that such a poor country is going to lose the trust and business of the rest of the world due to their greed. This is a very sad time for all.

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