Tainted Milk Powder Sickens Chinese Babies

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From my colleague Lin Yang, a look at the latest tainted food scandal to hit China:

The disclosure in a Chinese newspaper last week that kidney stones among babies may have been caused by tainted milk powder has touched off a wave of finger pointing and an eerie since of deja vu. Hundreds of sick babies and at least one death have been linked to milk powder produced by the Sanlu Group. The slow official response—a recall was announced more than a month after the problem was discovered—is making people lose faith. There is no official explanation of why the powder was allowed in the market even after questions were raised or why the authorities did not reply to the initial inquiries of the worried parents.

Chinese officials suspect the milk powder is tainted with melamine, a chemical used in fertilizers and plastics. It is sometimes added to animal feed to boost its apparent protein content, a practice the government banned last year amid an international furor about the safety of Chinese-made products. Animal feed from China that contained melamine is suspected of poisoning thousands of pets in the U.S. last year. Chinese-made milk powder has also proven dangerous in the past. In 2004, at least 13 babies died in eastern China after being fed milk that was made from powder containing little or no nutritional value.

As news of the latest incident emerged last week, indignant posts have flooded Internet bulletin boards, ridiculing the official statements and calling for self-organized actions to investigate the incident. There are also devastated parents across the country leaving contact information on the Internet, trying to find help and support from each other. “I have been crying so hard that I can hardly catch my breath,” wrote one mother. “I’ve seen bloody spots on my baby’s diaper but the doctor only told me to feed him more water. I feel so helpless. I will not demand a refund; I do not want any compensation. Just please, I’m praying to heaven, let my baby be ok!” Medicine might be enough to restore the sick babies to health, but it will take more than that to restore the public’s trust.