Nearly 6,000 Chinese Babies Remain Hospitalized from Melamine-Tainted Milk

According to China’s Health Ministry, about 6,000 Chinese babies remain hospitalized with kidney problems resulting from the milk powder scandal that has killed four infants, sickened 54,000 children, and caused restrictions of Chinese dairy products in over 30 countries.  Six of the hospitalized children remain in serious condition.

In Hong Kong, the government said another child—an eight-year-old boy—was ill with kidney stones after drinking Chinese-made <"">melamine-tainted milk.  This represents the eighth such case in that territory.  The boy was diagnosed with a stone in his right kidney and reportedly had been drinking three packs of pure milk produced by a Chinese dairy weekly since 2003.

China’s White Rabbit candy—which had been removed from shelves in the United States, Europe, and Asia following tests that found it to be melamine contaminated—has been returned to store shelves in Shanghai.  Company officials said overseas sales would resume later and that they were no longer using milk from companies on the blacklist compiled by China’s food quality authority.

Taiwan was also hit by the scandal and China is looking to reassure Taiwanese consumers that its dairy products are safe, saying that mainland authorities were very concerned about the scanda; and that a thorough investigation was underway.  Taiwanese authorities implemented a broad inspection of milk powders and related food items; over 160 products containing Chinese milk and vegetable-based proteins have been removed from stores.  Also, Taiwanese and Chinese food safety authorities have agreed to set up a hot line to inform each other of food safety emergencies.  The ongoing scandal has led to renewed Taiwanese hostility toward rival China—the two split amid their 1949 civil war; Beijing still claims Taiwan as a part of its territory.

Chinese authorities have blamed dairy suppliers saying they added melamine to watered-down milk to fool quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein.  Melamine is a chemical that has gained notoriety in recent years for its ability to cheat nutrition tests; the chemical was originally designed to make plastics, fertilizer, and fire retardants.  Because melamine possesses high nitrogen contents, it can create the appearance in food of being high in protein and has been used in recent years to falsify protein levels in foods.  In the current melamine-tainting scandal, the toxic chemical was added to watered-down baby formula to create the impression of high protein levels in the diluted products.  Melamine has turned up in a wider variety of foods containing dairy products such as yogurt, dairy drinks, milk teas and coffees, biscuits, cheese, yogurt, candy, and ice cream.  The scandal has caused a series of international recalls and has wreaked significant damage to the dairy industry in China.

Melamine can cause kidney problems—including kidney stones and kidney failure—infants are particularly susceptible to the effects of melamine contamination.  Some dairy suppliers have been arrested, the Chinese government has dismissed some local and national officials for negligence, and some countries have banned all Chinese food imports over the ongoing scandal.

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