China’s largest producer of powdered milk, the Sanlu Group, has recalled 700 tons of baby formula after it was determined that this formula was linked to the death of one infant, with kidney problems now being linked to at least 50 more infants.  This company represents 18 percent of China’s milk powder market, producing 6800 tons of milk per day.  According to an article published in the International Herald Tribune, at least six Chinese government agencies descended on the milk powder factory that produced this formula.  The story quotes a company official quoted on the website of a leading Chinese business magazine indicating that Sanlu company officials were aware of the contamination more than a month ago but did not chose to go public.

Investigators have apparently determined that the formula in question contained melamine, an industrial chemical.  Various reports indicate that suspect suppliers added water to the milk in order to make additional profits, but compensated with the chemical melamine so that the diluted milk’s protein count would appear higher and could pass quality standards.

Readers should well recall the name of melamine as this was also the chemical linked to a massive recall of U.S. pet food.  In February 2008, a U.S. company, ChemNutra Inc. and two Chinese businesses were charged by a federal grand jury in connection with the import of 800 metric tons of wheat gluten tainted with melamine that may have killed thousands of cats and dogs in 2007.

I for one continue to be saddened by these constant incidents, most of which originating from supply chains residing within China, impacting our most precious food and drug products with contamination and causing death and injury.  I’ve penned numerous posts related to the contamination of the life saving drug heparin, food, and now we have yet another incident involving infant formula, and precious children.  While the U.S. FDA has assured U.S. consumers that no infant formula has been approved for import, even that agency has left the door open to limited quantities penetrating ethnic grocery stores in the U.S.  When or if these incidents ever end is really up to China’s industry and government leaders.  Perhaps this is our continual reminder of the ugly side of capitalism, regardless of product.

 Bob Ferrari