China Detains 22 in Melamine Tainted Milk Probe

Police in China have detained 22 people suspected of involvement in introducing the chemical <"">melamine into the supply chain, state media announced today.

Melamine is used to make plastics, fertilizer, and fire retardants and is known to cause kidney stones and can lead to kidney failure.  Melamine-contaminated powdered milk has been blamed for the illnesses of some 54,000 children and the deaths of four infants.

Authorities in northern Hebei province held the 22 following raids on dozens of dairy farms and milk purchasing stations during which they seized nearly 500 pounds of melamine, the China Daily reported, adding that police said 19 of the detainees were managers at dairy pastures, breeding farms, and milk purchasing stations.  “According to the police investigation, melamine was produced in underground plants and then sold to breeding farms and purchasing stations,” the newspaper said.

A man surnamed Gao was suspected of producing a “protein powder” containing melamine and a man named Xue likely sold the melamine-tainted powder to the milk purchasing stations, the paper said.  Melamine can make watered-down milk appear to have falsely higher protein levels.

Meanwhile, according to a recent Associated Press report, “cookies from a major Japanese confectioner and Chinese-made baby cereal and crackers” are now included in the ongoing tainted milk scandal originating out of China.  Taiwan also reported three babies with kidney stones in the first cases likely linked to the scandal there.  The AP also reports that the Hong Kong government announced it found traces of melamine in baby cereal and crackers made in mainland China:  Heinz DHA+AA vegetable formula baby cereal and Silang House steamed potato wasabi crackers.  The Chinese government also found melamine levels at 24 times the safety limit in Koala’s March cookies and Pizza Hut suspended supplying cheese powder found to be contaminated by melamine in Pizza Hut’s Taiwan branch.  Three Taiwanese children—two three-year-old girls and a one-year-old boy—who consumed Chinese milk formula were diagnosed with kidney stones. The mother of one of the girls also has kidney stones, said Liu Yi-lien, health chief of Ilan County in eastern Taiwan.  “They have all consumed Chinese milk,” Liu said.  Five other children have become ill as a result of using melamine-tainted products in the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

Because hundreds of international food companies now have operations in China, melamine-tainted products have recently started appearing in increasing numbers in Chinese-made exports abroad, including candies, yogurt, and rice balls.

The European Union, which is comprised of 27 nations, significantly adds to the growing list of countries that have banned or recalled Chinese dairy products over melamine contamination.  In addition to being responsible for killing four Chinese babies and sickening 54,000 children, three zoo babies developed kidney stones after being nursed with tainted milk powder for over a year and a lion cub and two baby orangutans were sickened after drinking infant formula made by the Sanlu Group Co., said Zhang Xu, a veterinarian with the Hangzhou Zhangxu Animal Hospital.  The European Commission is also calling for additional reviews on other Chinese food imports.

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