09/19/2008, 00.00
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Melamine also found in fresh milk in China

It has been found in about 10% of the milk from the three leading companies, which account for about 60% of the market. The substance could be carcinogenic. Requests for "explanations" from the United States and the European Union. Thousands of parents are asking for compensation. Experts: complete transparency is necessary to save the companies involved, and to restore trust.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Melamine has been found in about 10% of samples of fresh milk from the three leading companies (China Mengniu Dairy, Bright Dairy & Food, and Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group), which altogether in 2007 covered more than 60% of the Chinese market.

Starbucks, the world's largest coffee chain, immediately announced that it will no longer use milk from Mengniu in its more than 300 locations in China, replacing it with soy milk produced in Hong Kong. The government of Hong Kong has already banned the sale of products from Yili, which was a major sponsor of the Olympics. Robert Madelin, director of the European Union commission for health and consumer protection, said today that this powdered milk is not imported into the EU, but that "we are discussing all aspects of this crisis bilaterally with our colleagues in China", and that they expect "a complete explanation". The same kind of attention and caution is being expressed by Nancy Nord, chairman of the U.S. consumer product safety commission.

The scandal erupted last week when melamine, a substance used to produce plastic and fertilizers, and harmful if consumed by human beings, was discovered in powdered milk from Sanlu. At least 6,244 infants fed this milk have had kidney problems: 1,300 of them have been hospitalized in serious condition, and at least 4 have died. An eight-month-old child died from kidney problems on August 7 in Yanqi (Xinjiang). He had been fed Sanlu milk.

After the initial shock, thousands of parents are now asking for compensation and announcing legal action.

The companies involved deny any responsibility. After Sanlu, Mengniu, Syrutra, and Yili have also expressed their "deepest apologies" to consumers, promising to recall tainted products, paying medical expenses, and assuring the public that "verifications" of the causes are under way. But experts observe that the presence of melamine is too widespread to be explained by accidental causes or by the dishonesty of milk producers. Even considering that Sanlu and at least 6 of the other 22 companies that have produced milk tainted with melamine were exempted from government controls, because they were believed to have high quality standards, but with the obligation of carrying out regular checks on their own.

Everyone is waiting for the government to clarify the situation and punish those responsible, because "only transparency can save tainted brands". The entire Chinese dairy industry, worth 19 billion dollars a year, is in danger. Meanwhile, police have arrested 18 people accused of adding the melamine, including 12 employees and supervisors of the dairy companies. Sanlu's president, Tian Wenhua, is in jail, under investigation together with many employees and public officials.

The state is under accusation partly because the news emerged on August 2, but was made public only after a month and a half: the World Health Organization has asked Beijing why this happened.

Melamine is high in nitrogen, and can simulate the presence of protein, as in milk "diluted" with water. There have been no large-scale studies on its effects on human beings. Chan King-ming, a professor of biochemistry at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says that animals that have ingested melamine can develop bladder tumors, and that there is a danger that the substance is widely used in feed and fertilizer, ending up in meat and vegetables.

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See also
China, poisoned milk: death penalty for those who break the law
Another child dies from melamine-contaminated milk
Milk scandal: government reassures, but the rich seek wet nurses for their children
Adulterated milk, more than 1,000 confirmed cases of kidney problems in children
Chinese health minister: food safety situation "grim"


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