Monday, November 3, 2008

Chinese Dairymen Spiked Milk, Eggs With Toxic Protein

The Wall Street Journal - ZHANGZHUANG, China -- Before melamine-laced milk killed and sickened Chinese babies and led to recalls around the world, the routine spiking of milk with illicit substances was an open secret in China's dairy regions, according to the accounts of farmers and others with knowledge of the industry.

Farmers here in Hebei province say in interviews that "protein powder" of often-uncertain origin has been employed for years as a cheap way to help the milk of undernourished cows fool dairy companies' quality checks. When the big companies caught on, some additive makers switched to toxic melamine -- which mimics protein in lab tests and can cause severe kidney damage -- to evade detection Worries about the extent of contamination in China's food supply took on new urgency this weekend.

After melamine was discovered in eggs in Hong Kong and mainland China, Beijing called for a nationwide crackdown to stop the contamination of animal feed, which authorities believe is the source of the melamine in eggs. The Agriculture Ministry said it has found melamine in 2.4% of the feed it has checked since mid-September, and has destroyed or confiscated more than 3,600 tons. The ministry called on local officials to "resolutely crush the dark dens" making and selling melamine for feed, saying it had found 238 and was investigating 278 more.

Melamine in feed hasn't led to the same kind of high concentrations of the chemical in eggs that were found when it was directly poured into milk -- thousands of parts per million in some cases. But amounts found in eggs have been above the safety standard China and several other countries established of 2.5 parts per million.

Egg sales are down, as is demand for chicken, and some farmers have begun slaughtering chickens they can no longer use. State media criticized food companies and government consumer-protection watchdogs for the lapses, as Beijing's response showed its alarm about a broadening threat to public confidence in food safety. Meanwhile, local officials in some areas were inspecting meat and considering widening the checks to farm-raised fish.

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