Friday, September 19, 2008

Tainted milk

By Kevin

I haven't heard from anyone in the U.S. asking about the China milk scandal, in which more than 6,000 infants have been hospitalized, include more than 150 with acute kidney failure and at least four have died after ingesting milk contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical used in fertilizers, plastics and cleaning products, which makes milk appear to have more protein. Apparently, it's the same chemical that was in the pet food recall last year.

Actually, I haven't heard from anyone in China about it either.

At first, the recall focused on dry baby milk, but now it's spread to two of the biggest manufacturers of regular milk, yogurt and ice cream.

After hearing that one of the companies whose products have been tainted -- Inner Mongolia Yili -- was an Olympic sponsor, I began wondering about the milk we've been buying (the only “low fat” milk we've found), because I remembered seeing Olympic rings on the packaging. Sure enough, it's Yili milk. We probably haven't ingested enough to get sick (pretty much just on cereal).

Apparently so far, 8 of Yili's 30 products have been found to have the chemical, but I haven't been able to find a list of which products specifically, so I suppose we need to try some other milk brands.

Then, I inspected the yogurt. Sure enough, it's another brand – Mengniu. Apparently 10 percent of their products have proven to be tainted so far.

Apparently, these are China's two largest dairies.

I continued to the Chinese-made butter and cheese. Recalls haven't made mention of either of these, but sure enough, they were manufactured by yet another tainted brand – Bright Dairy. I'm wondering if they've tested butter and cheese at all yet, because they're really not all that commonly used in China.

In any case, it does put you on edge a bit about buying any sort of food containing dairy products.

“Maybe we should just eat imported food,” Ruth joked.

The milk powder we bought doesn't seem to be among of potentially contaminated products. "If I made oatmeal cookies with the milk powder would you still eat them? she asked.

"I think so."

Some news sites are insinuating that the companies have known about the harmful effects of the chemical for months, or even years, but they kept it quiet during preparation for the Olympics.

Sadly, I'm reminded of stories from Tonghua, where I learned that, often poor families in China they rely on baby formula because they think that it is better for their children than breast milk. Now these babies are winding up with kidney stones and kidney failure because companies dilute products to make a small profit. Sad. I heard stories that even poorer families sometimes fed their babies Coke because the sugar would help to fatten them up, even if its nutritional value is negligible.

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