Tainted Chinese products have been found in exports to Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. A Taiwanese minister said even Nestlé powdered milk contained the toxic ingredient. The United States has also not been immune from the problem.
The situation is set to get worse since tests so far focused on powdered and fresh milk and must be extended to other dairy products like yogurt, pasteurised milk and other milk products.
High levels of melamine have been found in the aforementioned as well as other products after tests were carried out in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Taiwan’s Health Minister Yeh Chin-chuan said that Nestle’s Neslac milk powder and Klim’s Istant Full Cream Milk Powder produced in Heilongjiang Province in north-eastern China was found to contain between 0.3-0.85 ppm (parts per million) of melamine. The two products were taken off the shelves (see photo).
“Such minor doses of melamine will not affect people's health . . . but we will take them off shelves according to our recommended procedures,” Yeh said.
Taiwan will also confer with food safety experts from other countries and the World Health Organisation to decide on whether to ban milk products containing traces of the chemical.
More than 160 products containing Chinese milk and vegetable-based proteins have been removed from Taiwanese stores.
Nestle has taken out half-page newspaper advertisements to assure Taiwanese consumers of the safety of its milk products over the past two weeks.
The substance has been found in five Chinese-made Yili milk samples and one Chinese-made Non Dairy Creamer sample by the Lua Chon Dinh Co.
There are fears that what has been found so far might just be the beginning.
Officials in the United States on Wednesday reported finding tainted White Rabbit candies for sale at Asian food markets in the state of New Jersey, after finding them earlier in California and Hawaii. In Germany this type of candy was discovered for sale in the southern state of Baden Württemberg.
South Korean authorities announced today that traces of melamine were found in lactoferrin (a protein found in milk used as a food and drug ingredient) imported from the Tatua Cooperative Diary Company of New Zealand used in baby formula. They banned all other products made by the company pending further tests.
Nitrogen-rich melamine is used to make plastics but its chemical composition is similar to protein. In watering down their milk by adding melamine because its nitrogen content suppliers can fool tests aimed at verifying protein content. But it is toxic for humans.
Chinese authorities have acknowledged that more than 53,000 Chinese infants have become ill after consuming powdered melamine-tainted baby formula. Of that total, 13,000 have been hospitalised and four have died.
The government hasn't provided an update on the death toll or the number of babies hospitalised since September 21 so the situation might even be worse than it currently is.
The Communist Party newspaper the People's Daily reported that when it first told of the issue on 2 August the SanLu Group asked the Shijiazhuang city government, home of the dairy products company, for help in “managing” the media response and “create a good environment for the recall of the company's problem products.”
It was not until September 10 that city officials reported the problem to higher authority.
In the meantime the parents of a 1-year-old boy who developed kidney stones after drinking tainted infant formula are suing SanLu for US$ 22,000 in compensation.
The Zhenping court has yet to determine whether the case can be admitted