Melamine Scandal Forces Increased Reforms in China

The Chinese Health Ministry confirms that there remain an unbelievable 10,700 children hospitalized in China after drinking <"">melamine-laced milk, reports the Associated Press (AP).  As a result, increased inspections have become but one of the new safety measures implemented during China’s massive and ongoing tainted milk crisis.  “They (government regulators) have tightened quality control and the farmers understand that.  The farmers know they have to feed their cows well and not give them antibiotics or other things,” said one of the inspectors. “Nowadays we’re a lot stricter.”

In addition to the thousands hospitalized, four babies have died and 54,000 others have been sickened after consuming milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine.  This week, China’s government pledged to overhaul the troubled industry by monitoring every link in the supply chain that brings milk from farms to family kitchens, said the AP.  The new policies are focusing on the bottom of the supply chain, farms where raw milk is obtained.  An estimated 80 percent of all milk comes from small farmers who sell it to milk collection stations, which then sell the milk to dairy companies.

Unfortunately, government testing reveals melamine contamination to be widespread, with one-fifth of the country’s dairy companies implicated, including its largest and most reputable names.  Investigators also confirm that milk suppliers, in attempts to increase profits, watered down the milk and then added melamine to make it appear to meet protein standards.  Melamine, like protein, is high in nitrogen, which is what quality tests measure.  When added to food products—such as watered-down milk—melamine creates the false appearance of high protein levels.

The China dairy industry has been steadily booming as that country worked “to construct the world’s milk capital and make an international brand.”  But this recent tainting crisis has seriously and adversely affected China’s small farmers who are now forced to dump milk the dairy companies will not buy, while still paying for expensive feed for their animals.  Also, farmers say they have not yet received any of the emergency subsidies promised by the government; the new regulations—being enforced by some 5,000 government inspectors—have imposed increased costs to maintain milk cows.  The inspectors have been dispatched to provide 24-hour supervision over the dairy industry and government inspectors are posted at all of China’s dairy factories.

Li Chunlan, 41, who owns a milk collection station said that she feels honest suppliers have to pay for the inappropriate actions of a few unscrupulous operators.  “If the government had taken measures earlier, then there wouldn’t be such an incident like this,” she said. “The problem has been the lack of controls and inconsistent quality. It’s existed for a long time.  I just worry about what happens when the inspectors leave.”

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 food products emerging out of China include tainted milk, ice cream, yogurt, candy, cheese, and dairy drinks, to name just some.

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