We continue to learn more almost weekly about China’s food safety problems. It was reported recently that Chinese authorities kept concerns about the safety of a Shanghai dairy’s products secret for nearly a year. The company was shut down for manufacturing contaminated milk in January. The delay in notifying the public about the tainted products raises questions about the effectiveness of China’s efforts to restore confidence in its food industry after several safety scandals in recent years — including one involving contaminated milk — that exposed serious flaws in monitoring the nation’s food supply.
Food safety authorities in Shanghai found contamination in Shanghai Panda Dairy Co. Ltd.’s products last February and started investigations. Chinese authorities said the dairy was one of 22 that produced tainted milk in 2008. They detained three executives in April, but Shanghai’s food safety bureau first told the public of the problem only when it shut the dairy. The dairy was selling milk powder and condensed milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, which can cause kidney stones and kidney failure.
The same chemical had been introduced into infant formula and other milk products in 2008 in one of the country’s worst food safety crises. At least six children died and more than 300,000 were sickened after drinking the adulterated milk. The scandal exposed the widespread practice of adding melamine, normally used in the manufacture of plastics and fertilizer, to watered-down milk to fool inspectors testing for protein, and to increase profits.
As we have reported previously, China enacted a food safety law early last year promising tougher penalties for makers of tainted products that also says authorities should immediately inform the public when food products have been found unsafe for consumption. Shanghai Panda was one of the dairies named by China’s product safety authority in the 2008 scandal. Tests at the time showed its products had among the highest levels of melamine and the company suspended operations as investigations were carried out. The company was allowed to resume production after it pledged to improve safety standards. Shanghai authorities said eight batches of contaminated milk powder and condensed milk produced by the company had been found to contain unacceptably high levels of melamine and would be destroyed.
Sources: Associated Press and MSNBC
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