Tag Archives: melamine in milk

Milk, It Eats..oops, Drinks Both Ways,Too

The last posting highlighted that the US has its hands full with the peanut scandal (see here), just as China was mired in the melamine milk melamine-milk-bottle1mishap  last year.  Now it looks like its payback time as China appears to be on the offensive to state that it wasn’t the only culprit in the melamine issue.

The Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision said today it was investigating whether Dumex, the powdered-milk unit of France’s Danone Group, had produced milk powder contaminated with melamine. A lot is at stake as Dumex ( Chinese Web site:  www.dumex.com.cn ) sells the most baby milk powder on China’s market in 2005 and 2006 in terms of sales volume and revenue.

Added to the mystery is that the Shanghai health authorities, as reported by China View here, specified that it was only interested in Dumex milk powder produced before Sep 14 2008.

Dumex did not waste any time in denying these allegations. Its Malaysian website www.dumex.com.my today stated that “the current situation in China has been incorrectly reported and our colleagues there have confirmed that Dumex products manufactured in China have been tested thoroughly by certified official laboratories and were found to contain no melamine.”

It certainly will be interesting to see the outcome of the Shanghai investigations..this will dispel any lingering doubt that the melamine milk scandal is a problem not of China alone.

Update (14/02/09) : Chinese authorities have cleared Danone-Dumex of any industrial chemical contamination of their milk products. See here.

Melamined Milk – Just When You Thought It Was Safe..

As the weeks passed by and the melamine menace created larger ripples, more and more countries had set up various measures to ensure that tainted milk did not reach its shores.

milkmelamine

The Milk of Cruelty - latest figures from China reveal the magnitude of the problem ( read below)

It now appears that far from being contained, further exposes have given way to a sense of alarm whether the various Food Agencies and Health Ministries have done enough. On 25 Nov, The  FDA revealed that traces of melamine had been found in USA-produced milk and even went on to name the affected brands (see here). In the face of mounting criticism, the FDA had to revise its guidelines to define what constituted safe levels, bringing the safe levels for infants down to 1 ppm with the proviso that trace levels were safe for infants.

On 2 Dec, China gave an inkling on the magnitude of the problem by releasing, for the first time since 22 Sep (when the news broke), the latest figures of babies affected. A total of 294,000 had been taken ill (initially 53,000); 51,900 required medical treatment ( 13,000 initially) and 6 died (4 initailly).

saudiwoman

Saudi Milk - a new enemy within

Today, 3 Dec, Saudi Arabia‘s Food and Drug Authority (www.sfda.gov.sa) announced it had discovered high melamine content in milk powder made by a Nestle plant in China. In addition, the agency also found melamine in a chocolate wafer cream it identified as ‘Apollo’ made by Malaysia-based Apollo Food Industries.(see here). A quick check on the Malaysian Ministry official web-site of lists of melamine-containing foods dated 26 Nov 2008 did not show up this brand at all.

Yet another blow to China is the news that the European Union today banned the import of all products containing soya; a unique move as previously only milk and dairy products were prohibited. Read more here.

Consumers in these countries are beginning to ask not only why such information were  not made available earlier, but also whether the list of tainted foods are indeed comprehensive.

The Melamine Milk Mess – Where Did All The Stuff Go?

After the melamine scandal surfaced and reported here in September 2008, the Chinese health authorities have seized tons of contaminated milk from local manufacturers as well as received even more from rejected foreign shipments.

melamine-disposal

One Easy Way of Disposal - workers squeezing milk into a drainage ditch leading to a sewage plant(AP photo)

The problem with the Chinese Health Ministry now is how to dispose off the tens of thousands of tons of melamine-stained milk which had been seized so far. Well, some of it was buried and mixed with coal while one trash company in Guangzhou actually dumped it into a river, turning the waters a frothy white!

Nobody’s saying how much exactly has been seized, but to give an idea, last month some 32,000 tons – enough to fill up 23 Olympic swimming pools – were disposed off in the province of Hebei alone, according to local news agencies.

Another ingenious method was to icinerate the contaminated milk powder in 3000 degree heat and convert the residue to cement, a technique which was claimed  to be environmentally friendly. In fact, this method is one of two officially approved by Beijing, the other being to dispose them into official land-fills.

So, it looks like the official Chinese government stand is.. burn it or bury it!

The Melamine Milk Mess – Other Foods Have Been Banned,too

With all the excitement generated from the milk scandal, many are not aware that this is the latest in a long line of food or food additives produced in mainland China that have been banned over the years. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Salted duck eggs - Sudan 1 Red was used to make the yolk appear red

1. Sudan 1 Red – this dye hit the headlines in 2005 when it was discovered to be present in preserved duck eggs, chili oil and (yikes!) Kentucky Fried Chicken, although a ban had earlier been implemented in 1996. Known to be a cancer-causing chemical, the Chinese General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (GAQSIQ) has since assured consumers that this substance has been withdrawn following strict enforcement.

2. Counterfeit Drugs – in 2007, it was discovered that fake human albumin, a life-saving protein given in drips to critically-ill patients, had been supplied to 18 hospitals in China, giving the makers a 300% profit. BBC News reported it here.

3. Melamine again – also in 2007, melamine-containing wheat gluten and rice protein used to make pet food was blamed for the deaths of several pet cats and dogs in the USA, leading to the GAQSIQ taking more action.

4. Pesticide residue – in 2006, Greenpeace discovered that 70% of vegetables sold in two Hong Kong supermarkets were covered in illegal pesticide residue. Similarly, in January this year, several people in Japan fell ill after consuming dumplings from China which were contaminated with several toxic insecticides, including parathion. Reuters reported that the Chinese government requested for a cover-up of this incident.

5. Contaminated powdered ginger – In July 2008, it was discovered that a  supermarket chain in the United States had been selling powdered ginger produced in China, which was labeled as organic, but when tested was found to contain the banned pesticide Aldicarb.

The crisis China faces now is to regain consumers’ confidence with regards to food safety of its products. The regulatory body, GAQSIQ has no choice but to be transparent and possibly, revise some of its rules to allow foreigners to be part of the enforcement process. Meanwhile, consumer countries have no choice but to err on the side of caution by being extra-vigilant in screening China-made products…at their  tax-payers’ expense, of course.

Update(06/10/2008): SOUTH Korea has declared a rising volume of Chinese imported kimchi, or spicy fermented cabbage, to be inedible due to banned or harmful additives found in it. The Korea Food and Drug Administration told parliament it blocked 1,637 tonnes of Chinese-made kimchi due to food safety concerns last year. The kimchi shipments were found to have ‘inedible’ additives such as cancer-causing artificial sweeteners or banned colourings, the food and drug agency said.

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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