Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Four Babies Now Dead from Melamine Poisoning
Four babies are now dead in China due to consuming melamine poisoned milk, and thousands more are hospitalized - and the response of the Chinese government is to fire a mayor? Gee, that must really make the Chinese citizens feel secure and confident in their government's ability to police the food supply and punish criminals. Mayor in China Fired in Milk Scandal By EDWARD WONG September 19, 2008 (The New York Times) BEIJING — China’s adulterated milk scandal continued to widen Thursday, as authorities arrested a dozen people, fired a senior government official and acknowledged that a wider range of milk products showed traces of a chemical used to disguise its poor quality. Officials said a fourth infant had died from tainted baby formula, while health regulators in neighboring Hong Kong announced a broader recall of mainland Chinese-made milk, yogurt and ice cream contaminated with the chemical melamine. Tainted milk is the latest in a long string of food and drug safety problems that have caused consumers in China and in the country’s major export markets to worry about the quality of some Chinese goods. Shoddy infant formula was at the center of another scandal in 2004 that prompted a crackdown on rogue suppliers. But the new safety problems are much more widespread, involving at least 22 dairy companies and contaminated milk products that have appeared nationwide. China Central Television, the main government network, reported Thursday night that melamine had been found in some liquid milk from three major brands. The authorities also announced that Ji Chuntang, the mayor of Shijiazhuang, a city whose officials have been accused of failing to deal with reports of tainted formula, had been dismissed. He was the most senior official to be punished so far. Sanlu Group, one of China’s largest dairy companies and the first company that was found to be selling contaminated formula, has its headquarters in Shijiazhuang, which is in the northern province of Hebei. Investigators have discovered traces of melamine, an industrial chemical, in batches of powdered baby formula made by the 22 dairy companies, all of which have said they were recalling their milk products. Producers trying to cut costs often dilute milk with water, which lowers the nutritional content. But the addition of melamine, which is high in nitrogen, helps the milk appear to meet nutrition standards by artificially raising its protein count. Mr. Ji was dismissed in the investigation of what appeared to be a chain of neglect and a cover-up that began with Sanlu. Sanlu received complaints months ago about suspected problems in the formula, but the company waited until Aug. 2 to tell the Shijiazhuang city government, Hebei’s deputy governor said Wednesday. City officials waited until Sept. 9 to tell provincial officials, who did not inform the central government until the next day. Sanlu finally recalled 700 tons of the formula on Sept. 11. Mr. Ji’s firing indicated that the political consequences of the scandal could increase as more information emerges on the role played by officials and as the death toll climbs. Four city officials were fired before Mr. Ji’s dismissal. The general manager of Sanlu, Tian Wenhua, has also been fired and was detained by the police. The police in Hebei Province have arrested 18 people, including six who sold melamine to milk producers, the official news agency Xinhua reported. The others were milk producers who added melamine to their products and then sold the milk to dairy companies. On Thursday, Hong Kong ordered the recall of the dairy products of Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group after tests found melamine in 8 of the company’s 30 products. The police are seeking a milk seller named Xue Jianzhong, who is accused of adding melamine to his milk. Mr. Xue was put on a wanted list late Wednesday, Xinhua reported. United States Food and Drug Administration officials said they had been reassured by manufacturers of infant formula for the American market that they did not import products or ingredients from China. An F.D.A. official said the agency was also inspecting bulk shipments from Asia to examine milk-derived ingredients, like milk protein concentrate and whey powder, in order to determine if they were contaminated with melamine. So far all the samples have shown no contamination. Andrew Martin contributed reporting from New York. Huang Yuanxi contributed research.