The recent seizure of 76 tons of melamine-tainted dairy products in China has again sparked concern over the country’s food safety system.
While it remains unclear whether the recently-seized dairy was left over from previous incidents, or a new batch, or whether any illnesses have been connected to the dairy, Chinese government officials sought to assuage worries last week, again pledging to improve enforcement of newly revamped food safety laws.
“China attaches great importance to food safety, particularly dairy quality and safety,” Deputy Secretary for Health Supervision Chen Rui told reporters at a recent conference at the Ministry of Health. “The ministry will continue to organize the national dairy safety standards to track evaluations, listen to the food production companies and consumer opinion, and constantly revise and improve the national dairy safety standards.”
Striking another tone, a senior Chinese health official said last Monday that more food safety incidents, like melamine-tainted milk scandals, are likely given China’s size and unbalanced development.
“With such a huge territory and population in China, it’s hard to avoid all food safety threats and to put all unscrupulous businessmen under scrutiny,” said Su Zhi, director of the health supervision bureau under the Ministry of Health at an international food safety forum last week. Su also said the Chinese government would investigate every food safety incident and punish responsible parties.
Xinhua, an official Chinese media outlet, reported that Su refused to comment on whether the recently seized dairy products were leftovers from the 2008 scandal, which sickened over 300,000 and killed six infants.
After a 10-day food safety raid last February, which turned up more melamine-laced milk, the Chinese government announced that most of the tainted milk had been destroyed.
Melamine is an industrial chemical used in many plastic products. The chemical is an attractive means of economic adulteration for milk producers because it makes watered-down, low quality milk appear to have a higher protein content in certain tests. When ingested, melamine can cause bladder or kidney stones, bladder cancer, and acute kidney failure.
China’s national food safety office responded to the recent melamine raid by announcing it will restart a nationwide overhaul of milk powder, including its source, manufacturing, storage, and sales, according to Xinhua.