Melamine Tainted Milk Powder Still Being Stockpiled in China

Melamine dangerChina was fighting to maintain public confidence in its food safety after a massive stockpile of melamine-tainted milk powder was seized during raids on warehouses in the nation’s biggest city.

The seizures in Chongqing come three years after the 2008 Sanlu milk scandal, in which three babies died and 300,000 others were sickened by melamine-tainted milk in an episode that fatally undermined already fragile public trust in the government’s ability to keep food safe.

The discovery of the tainted milk powder, which was due to be made into pastry and ice-cream, has drawn attention to the inability of China’s government to police China’s vast and fragmented food chain.

In a bid to restore confidence, the city authorities in Chongqing, a municipal area with 35m inhabitants, have announced a 100-day crackdown on food and drug fraud in a mirror-image of a crackdown last year on mafia crime.

On Monday some 7,900 police in Chongqing were reportedly deployed to conduct city-wide raids on 600 premises suspected of producing illegal or fake food and pharmaceuticals.

 

wandelroutes brabant

6 Chinese go on trial for selling melamine.

BEIJING (AP) — Six Chinese suspects went on trial Friday accused of making and selling the industrial chemical at the center of a tainted milk scandal blamed for killing six children and sickening nearly 300,000 others.

Among those in court Friday was the owner of a workshop that was allegedly the country’s largest source of melamine, the substance responsible for the health crisis that also saw Chinese food products pulled from stores worldwide, state media said.

Police say Zhang Yujun, 40, ran a workshop on the outskirts of Jinan in eastern Shandong province that manufactured and sold a “protein powder” composed mainly of melamine and malt dextrin, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The powder was added to watered-down milk to make it appear higher in protein content.

Prosecutors in the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People’s Court accused Zhang of producing 776 tons of the additive powder from October 2007 through August 2008, making it the largest source of melamine in the country. He allegedly sold more than 600 tons with a total value of 6.83 million yuan ($1 million), the court heard.

In the same case, a second man, Zhang Yanzhang, 24, was accused of buying and reselling 230 tons of powder to others.

State television showed both men in court in handcuffs with their heads bowed while being questioned by three judges. It was not immediately clear what penalties they face.

An official at the publicity office of Hebei Supreme Court confirmed that the trial started Friday but refused to give his name or other details.

Four other men were being tried in three separate courts across Hebei province for adding the chemical to raw milk and then selling it to Sanlu Group Co., the main company in the scandal, according to Xinhua.

Melamine can artificially inflate protein levels and was apparently added to watered-down milk to fool quality inspectors while boosting profits.

Zhang Heshe and Zhang Taizhen were accused of adding 77 pounds (35 kilograms) of the “protein powder” to 70 tons of raw milk and then selling it to Sanlu. Yang Jingmin and Gu Guoping were also charged with adding 53 pounds (24 kilograms) and 37 pounds (16.7 kilograms) of melamine, respectively.

The verdicts will be announced at an unspecified date, Xinhua reported.

The dairy company Sanlu, based in Shijiazhuang, confirmed earlier this week that it was bankrupt.

Xinhua reported Thursday that Sanlu has 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) of net debt and that a branch of the Shijiazhuang City Commercial Bank was the creditor that applied to a court to have Sanlu declared bankrupt.

It said the intermediate court in Shijiazhuang had accepted the filing. Xinhua said Sanlu owes a creditor 902 million yuan ($132 million) it borrowed earlier this month to pay for the medical treatment of children sickened after drinking the company’s infant formula and for compensation of the babies’ families.

Wang Jianguo, spokesman for the Shijiazhuang city government, said the money was given to the China Dairy Industry Association for medical care and compensation fees for victims, according to a transcript of a news conference he gave Thursday.

A woman who answered the phone Friday at the association refused to answer any questions.

The issue of compensation for the families of the children sickened or killed has become a sensitive one, with courts so far not accepting any lawsuits filed by the families.

The Legal Daily newspaper reported that Tian Wenhua, Sanlu’s chairwoman and general manager, would go on trial Wednesday in Shijiazhuang for “selling fake and shoddy products.”

Sanlu, like a number of major Chinese dairies, had been exempt from government inspections because it was deemed to have superior quality controls — until high levels of the industrial chemical melamine were found in its baby formula and other products in September. Several other dairies were also found to have sold tainted goods.

Melamine poses little danger in small amounts, but larger doses can cause kidney stones and renal failure.

Sanlu is 43 percent-owned by New Zealand daily cooperative Fonterra Group.

Is Melamine in our food in the U.S? United States

By JAMES E. McWILLIAMS
Published: November 17, 2008

CHINA’S food supply appears to be awash in the industrial chemical melamine. Dangerous levels have been detected not only in milk and eggs, but also in chicken feed and wheat gluten, meaning that melamine is almost impossible to avoid in processed foods. Melamine in baby formula has killed at least four infants in China and sickened tens of thousands more.

In response, the United States has blasted lax Chinese regulations, while the Food and Drug Administration, in a rare move, announced last week that Chinese food products containing milk would be detained at the border until they were proved safe.

For all the outrage about Chinese melamine, what American consumers and government agencies have studiously failed to scrutinize is how much melamine has pervaded our own food system. In casting stones, we’ve forgotten that our own house has more than its share of exposed glass.

To be sure, in China some food manufacturers deliberately added melamine to products to increase profits. Makers of baby formula, for example, watered down their product, lowering the amount of protein and nutrients, then added melamine, which is cheap and fools tests measuring protein levels.

But melamine is also integral to the material life of any industrialized society. It’s a common ingredient in cleaning products, waterproof plywood, plastic compounds, cement, ink and fire-retardant paint. Chemical plants throughout the United States produce millions of pounds of melamine a year.

Given the pervasiveness of melamine, it’s always possible that trace elements will end up in food. The F.D.A. thus sets the legal limit for melamine in food at 2.5 parts per million. This amount is indeed minuscule, a couple of sand grains in an expanse of desert that pose no real threat to public health. Moreover, the 2.5 p.p.m. figure is calculated for a person weighing 132 pounds — a cautious benchmark given that the average adult weighs 150 to 180 pounds.

But these figures obscure more than they reveal. First, while adults eat about one-fortieth of their weight every day, toddlers consume closer to one-tenth. Although scientists haven’t measured the differential impact of melamine on infants versus adults, it’s likely that this intensified ratio would at least double (if not quadruple) the impact of legal levels of melamine on toddlers.

This doubled exposure might not land a child in the hospital, but it could certainly contribute to the long-term kidney and liver problems that we know are caused by chronic exposure to melamine.

On a more concrete note, melamine not only has widespread industrial applications, but is also used to buttress the foundation of American agriculture.

Fertilizer companies commonly add melamine to their products because it helps control the rate at which nitrogen seeps into soil, thereby allowing the farmer to get more nutrient bang for the fertilizer buck. But the government doesn’t regulate how much melamine is applied to the soil. This melamine accumulates as salt crystals in the ground, tainting the soil through which American food sucks up American nutrients.

A related area of agricultural concern is animal feed. Chinese eggs seized last month in Hong Kong, for instance, contained elevated levels of melamine because of the melamine-laden wheat gluten used in the feed for the chickens that produced the eggs.

To think American consumers are immune to this unscrupulous behavior is to ignore the Byzantine reality of the global gluten trade. Tracking the flow of wheat gluten around the world, much less evaluating its quality, is like trying to contain a drop of dye in a churning whirlpool.

More ominous, the United States imports most of its wheat gluten. Last year, for instance, the F.D.A. reported that millions of Americans had eaten chicken fattened on feed with melamine-tainted gluten imported from China. Around the same time, Tyson Foods slaughtered and processed hogs that had eaten melamine-contaminated feed. The government decided not to recall the meat.

Only a week earlier, however, the F.D.A. had announced that thousands of cats and dogs had died from melamine-laden pet food. This high-profile pet scandal did not prove to be a spur to reform so much as a red herring. Our attention was diverted to Fido and away from the animals we happen to kill and eat rather than spoil.

Frightening as this all sounds, the concerned consumer is not completely helpless. We can seek out organic foods, which are grown with fertilizer without melamine — unless that fertilizer was composted with manure from animals fed melamine-laden feed (always possible, as the Tyson example suggests).

We could further protect ourselves by choosing meat from grass-fed or truly free-range animals, assuming the grass was not fertilized with a conventional product (something that’s also very hard to know).

But as all the caveats above indicate, these precautions will only go so far. Melamine, after all, points to the much larger relationship between industrial waste and American food production. Regulations might be lax when it comes to animal feed and fertilizer in China, but take a closer look at similar regulations in the United States and it becomes clear that they’re vague enough to allow industries to “recycle” much of their waste into fertilizer and other products that form the basis of our domestic food supply.

As a result, toxic chemicals routinely enter our agricultural system through the back channels of this under-explored but insidious relationship.

So, sure, let’s keep the heat on China. And, yes, let’s take with a big dose of skepticism the Chinese government’s assurances that they’re improving the food supply.

At the same time, though, instead of delivering righteous condemnation, the United States should seize upon the melamine scandal as an opportunity to pass federal fertilizer standards backed by consistent testing for this compound, which could very well be hidden in plain sight.

James E. McWilliams, a history professor at Texas State University at San Marcos, is the author of “American Pests: The Losing War on Insects From Colonial Times to DDT.

Animal Feed spiked with melamine, known secret for long time.

Animal feed spiked with melamine an ‘open secret’

in China: report

Last Updated: Thursday, October 30, 2008 | 9:06 AM

A Chinese shopper pays cash for eggs at a market in Chengdu, southwest China, on Tuesday. (Color China Photo/Associated Press)

Melamine in feed in China

Melamine in feed in China

Animal feed producers in China commonly add the industrial chemical melamine to their products to make them appear higher in protein, state media reported Thursday, an indication that the scope of the country’s latest food safety scandal could extend beyond milk and eggs.

The practice of mixing melamine into animal feed is an “open secret” in the industry, the Nanfang Daily newspaper reported in an article that was republished on the websites of the official Xinhua News Agency and the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

Publicizing such a problem is rare in the Chinese media and appears to be a tacit admission by China’s central government that melamine contamination is widespread.

The news comes after four brands of Chinese eggs were found to be contaminated with melamine, which agriculture officials have speculated came from adulterated feed given to hens. The discovery of the tainted eggs followed on the heels of a similar crisis involving compromised dairy products that sent tens of thousands of children to the hospital and was linked to the deaths of four infants.

That scandal was triggered by dairy suppliers who added melamine, a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizer, to watered-down milk in order to dupe quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein.

Health experts say ingesting a small amount of melamine poses no danger, but in larger doses, it can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure.

It is forbidden to deliberately add melamine to food and animal feed, but its apparent prevalence highlights the inability of authorities to keep the food production process clean of toxins despite official vows to raise safety standards.

The Ministry of Agriculture and the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine did not immediately respond to faxed requests for comment. Phones rang unanswered at the Ministry of Health.

Chemical plants used to pay companies to treat and dispose of excess melamine, but about five years ago began selling it to manufacturers who repackaged it as “protein powder,” the Nanfang Daily report said, citing an unnamed chemical industry expert. Melamine is high in nitrogen, and most protein tests test for nitrogen levels.

The inexpensive powder was first used to give the impression of higher protein levels in aquatic feed, then later in feed for livestock and poultry, the report said.

“The effect far more exceeds the milk powder scandal,” the newspaper said.

Melamine found in 4 brands of eggs

In the past week, melamine has been discovered in at least four brands of Chinese eggs, and officials in China’s largest city, Shanghai, said they had begun checks on all eggs sold in local markets.

No one has been sickened and it was not immediately clear how many eggs have been recalled.

China’s leading egg processor, Dalian Hanwei Enterprise Group, was among the companies found to have tainted eggs, which were first identified by Hong Kong food safety regulators.

The reputation of Chinese products has in the past year come under fire after high levels of chemicals and additives were found in goods ranging from toothpaste to milk powder. In the milk scandal, Chinese authorities and a leading dairy producer delayed reporting the problem for months.

The Ministry of Health said Wednesday that 2,390 children remained hospitalized after drinking tainted milk, including one in serious condition, and 48,514 had been treated at hospitals and released.