November 25, 2010


Melamine-tainted dairy re-emerges in China


The resurfacing of melamine-tainted dairy products in central China has triggered food safety concern again in the aftermath of the 2008 dairy scandal that rocked China's dairy industry.


Last week, market regulators in Xiangfan, in the central province of Hubei, asked local businesses to trace 50 packages of corn-flavoured dairy drink that are believed to contain melamine, a toxic chemical normally used in manufacturing plastics.


Sample tests showed the melamine level in the beverage measured as high as 4.8 milligram (mg) per kg, suggesting that the chemical was deliberately added during the production process to fabricate higher protein content.


Further investigations indicated that the drink was produced in a dairy firm in the southern neighboring Hunan Province. Earlier this year, Xiangtan Yuanshan Dairy Industry Company, the producer, bought a 25kg bag of Dongyuan-branded milk powder, along with 2kg samples, from its long-term supplier as raw material for the dairy beverage.


The producer did not conduct a check over the milk powder as the raw material supplier had offered all required quality reports. However, a test conducted by the Hunan administration of quality supervision and inspection showed that the melamine content was as high as 68mg per kg, far exceeding the national standard.


Moreover, after a thorough probe by the quality watchdog, the quality reports provided by the supplier were proved to be fabricated.


In July this year, the Dongyuan-brand of milk powder, produced in west China's Qinghai Province, was exposed for containing excessive levels of melamine. The dairy company, Xiangtan Yuanshan, claimed that it bought the raw material without knowing it was tainted with melamine.


However, in a July inspection by the local food safety watchdog, the company concealed the fact that it was using milk powder to produce dairy beverages.


Production in Xiangtan Yuanshan has since been halted and a local food safety watchdog has placed the case on file for further investigation and prosecution. The dairy firm is likely to face legal charges for breaking food safety laws, the local administration of quality supervision and inspection said on Tuesday.


Loopholes in the administrative supervision and manipulative manufacturers trying to get away with unqualified products are to blame for the re-emergence of melamine-tainted products, analysts said.


Though the government has required that dairy firms install melamine testing equipment themselves, the order was rarely implemented in some small dairy businesses, as the RMB400,000 (US$60,000) equipment is too heavy a burden, said Li Hongwei, director with the Xiangtan Quality and Technical Supervision Bureau.


Others attributed the misuse of melamine in dairy products to the over competitive market that lacks effective supervision. Many small dairy firms prefer to purchase raw materials from low-end suppliers to cut costs, hence increasing the quality risks.


Dai Xiang, board chairman of the dairy firm Xiangtan Yuanshan, complained that it was easy to fabricate a quality report but difficult for his company to identify the authenticity.

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