A Chinese state-run news agency reported the seizure of 76 tons of milk tainted with melamine. Some of the products carried over 550 times the legal limit of this toxin.
Food safety regulations in China were strengthened after a 2008 melamine milk recall that sickened over 300,000 Chinese babies and resulted in six deaths. That recall resulted in 21 convictions and two executions.
Despite attempts to curb melamine adulteration in milk, China has had a number of dairy recalls since that tragic incident, including a February 2010 recall involving over 170 tons of milk.
Chinese authorities are working to ensure the public that they are doing everything in their power to stop the adulteration. “The Chinese government has enormously and effectively responded with new laws and new regulations, and tries to implement this as soon as it can,” Rio Praaning Prawira Adiningrat, secretary general of the Public Advice International Foundation, told the New York Times.
Melamine is a chemical used in many plastics and can coatings. It is an attractive adulterant to milk producers in that it makes watered-down, low quality milk appear more nutritious in certain tests.
Just last week the United Nations Food Standards Body met to set new guidelines for melamine in certain foods. The threshold for infant milk formula was set at 1 milligram per
kilogram, the equivalent of the current U.S. limit of 1 part per
million, and the level for other foods as well as pet foods was set at 2.5 kg/mg.
These guidelines are not legally binding but they do provide standards which nations can use to confidently model their own laws.
In China, police have traced the milk currently being recalled to Dongyuan Dairy Factory in Qinghai province. The company was not involved in the 2008 recall. The owner and two employees have been arrested. It is unclear whether any consumers have become ill from the product.
Just last year strict new laws about melamine in infant formula were passed in China, and the government is still in the process of training their hundreds of dairies to adhere to the new laws as well as officials to enforce them.