China’s milk crisis deepens

China’s tainted milk powder scandal has deepened with three babies now dead, more than 6000 ill and 158 others (in eight provinces) suffering from acute kidney failure.

The manufacturer at the centre of the scandal, state-owned Sanlu, announced last week it was initiating a recall of the contaminated milk powder, however, with new evidence coming to light that the problem was known six weeks ago, questions are being asked about what took so long.

Sanlu’s co-owner, Fonterra, has said that although the company had tried for weeks to initiate an official recall, the Chinese local authorities would not do so.

Finally, last week, New Zealand “blew the whistle” in Beijing and “a very heavy hand then descended on local authorities,” according to New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Helen Clark.

The Chinese State Council has now initiated a national food safety emergency after a state television channel reported that traces of melamine (a chemical used in the manufacture of plastics) had been found in 22 other dairy company’s products, including some of China’s most established dairy firms. Melamine can increase the appearance of protein and was added by independent suppliers.

Despite urgings from Fonterra that the milk products be recalled and complaints from concerned parents dating back to March this year, this did not occur, and consumers were not informed until last week.

Two men were arrested on Monday after they reportedly told police they had been selling contaminated milk since 2007, after their product was rejected by Sanlu for failing to meet standards.

A further two suspects have since been arrested. The heaviest punishment for producing and selling toxic and hazardous food in China is death.

Fonterra acquired 43% of Sanlu, the market leader in the sector for more than a decade, in 2005.

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