Manila (AsiaNews) - The Philippines yesterday prohibited the importing and sale of Chinese milk, joining Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Brunei, and Hong Kong. Vietnam enacted a ban after finding melamine in a shipment of 101 tons of powdered milk, and ordered strict supervision of all milk sold in September.
Powdered milk, fresh milk, and other dairy products from 22 leading Chinese companies have been found to contain melamine, a substance high in nitrogen that makes products seem to have a higher protein content, but is dangerous for human consumption. The substance has also been found in exported Chinese products, although inspectors and companies previously claimed the contrary. The scope of the phenomenon (it involves the companies that produce more than 60% of China's fresh milk, and more than half of its powdered milk, with about 53,000 infants with kidney problems, and 7.7 million tons of products recalled as of yesterday) is raising alarm all over the world.
In Manila, commerce secretary Peter Favila is asking stores to take Chinese milk products off the shelves and drop them off at state centers for inspection. The customs office says that there will be more strict controls on all Chinese food products before they are approved for import.
Senator Pia Juliana Cayetano, the head of the health and demographics committee, says that there could still be problems because of "the unsafe practice of some retailers who repack powdered milk, which is then resold in small plastic bags to unsuspecting mothers who feed the milk to their children". Partly for this reason, the mayor of Manila, Alfredo Lim, has ordered inspections in stores that sell generic powdered milk.
All over Asia, from Japan to Thailand, there is great concern over cookies, ice cream, donuts, and any other product that might contain contaminated Chinese milk. Children are being taken to the hospital for examinations (in the photo). As a precaution, schools and stores are avoiding certain products: just a rumor is enough to prompt recalls, even of products from multinational companies, like M&Ms and Oreo cookies.
In Bangladesh, there are inspections of all imported powdered milk, even from countries with high food safety standards, like Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark. Yesterday, Malaysia banned candies, chocolate, and all other Chinese products containing milk, and health minister announced that there will be more prohibitions.
There is high alarm in Taiwan, where prime minister Liu Chao-shiuan admitted yesterday that many producers use Chinese dairy products - including those of companies involved in the melamine scandal, like Sanlu - to make desserts, breads, and beverages. Big local companies like King Car Industrial are recalling products containing creamer imported from China. Retail sales of products containing milk have fallen by 40-70%, and the progressive democratic opposition party insists that Beijing must provide all relevant information, and make compensation for damages.
In reply to the widespread alarm, Jiang Yu, spokesman for the Chinese foreign minister, says that he is "ready to collaborate with food safety office is to resolve any problem", although he also said that he does not have precise information on Chinese dairy exports.
China produced 32 million tons of milk in 2006.