Milk scandal still rearing its ugly head

09:28, July 14, 2010      

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Following the latest discovery this month of contaminated milk in Qinghai Province, a senior dairy analyst says local authorities should be more prompt in releasing information about tainted supplies and destroying them.

Milk contaminated with toxic melamine left at least six infants dead and more than 300,000 people sick, mostly with kidney problems, in 2008. But despite a nationwide crackdown and death sentences handed down to people responsible, the second incident of toxic milk this year has been uncovered.

"It's hard to estimate how much of the toxic milk powder has actually been destroyed, with very limited information released by local authorities," Wang Dingmian, former director of the Dairy Association of China, told the Global Times Tuesday.

The 2008 scandal exposed the widespread practice of adding melamine, a chemical normally used in making plastics and fertilizer, to watered-down milk to increase profits and fool inspectors testing for protein. When ingested in large amounts, melamine can cause kidney stones and kidney failure.

According to a government order issued after the scandal emerged, all milk powder with excessive melamine content, made before September 14, 2008, had to be recalled and destroyed.

But just this month, in northwest China's Qinghai Province, authorities raided a local dairy plant and seized 64 tons of milk powder and 12 tons of finished dairy products laced with the same industrial chemical.

Though the government didn't say whether the problem products were leftovers from the original batches in 2008, police discovered that 38 tons of the seized milk powder had been bought from Hebei Province.

Sulu, a dairy firm at the center of the contamination scandal, is based in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei.
Wang said that it is highly possible that the seizure in Qinghai was of products that avoided being destroyed, judging from the amount of melamine they contained, which was 1,397 mg/kg, or about 500 times the maximum allowable level of the chemical.

"If it's proven to be newly produced products, the problem is even more serious," Wang said.

Vice Minister of Agriculture Gao Hongbin said July 1 that the qualification rate of raw milk was 100 percent in the first half of the year, in terms of the milk passing melamine inspection.

Wang said the problem lies in the fact that no one knows how much tainted diary products survived the crackdown in 2008, creating a latent concern for further human and animal consumption.

"Milk powder moves faster than milk from cows. We have no idea how many regions it has circulated to," Wang said.

Hebei Province announced that it had destroyed all the tainted dairy products recalled, totaling 32,200 tons, by October 25, 2008, including 11,700 tons of San Lu infant milk powder.

However, China Business newspaper questioned the amount destroyed compared with the huge production volume of Sanlu, which was estimated to be 130,000 tons of milk powder and 1.8 million tons of liquid milk in 2007.

Separately, other leading companies involved in the scandal, such as Mengniu, Yili and Bright Dairy, never said how much of the powder was recalled or whether it was destroyed.
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