Infant formula, a manufactured food supplement intended for bottle-feeding infants under 12 months of age, is used in lieu of or in conjunction with breastfeeding. The infant staple is designed to mimic mother’s milk, but can differ in nutrient content.
Major problems have arisen, especially in the last decade, surrounding the safe manufacture of infant formula, food, and drugs in China. In September 2008, a Chinese milk scandal – a food safety incident in the People’s Republic of China – resulted in a serious outbreak of kidney disease among infants.
By that November nearly 300,000 infants had been affected, six died and over 50,000 were hospitalized because of kidney stones and renal failure.
The company Sanlu Group, a brand name supplier in China, had illegally enhanced powdered-milk infant formula with melamine in order to falsely exaggerate protein levels in their products – the 66 percent nitrogen content in melamine made the levels “appear” higher to satisfy government content tests.
Several other well-known global companies, like Nestle, were under heavy scrutiny and suspicion for doing the same.
Melamine is a fire retardant, a pesticide, and when combined with formaldehyde creates a durable thermoset plastic which is used in dinnerware, floor laminate, and dry erase boards.
According to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), melamine can be harmful if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed cutaneous. Chronic exposure can cause cancer and reproductive damage.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) found when melamine and cyanuric acid are absorbed into the bloodstream, they interact in the urine-filled renal microtubules and crystallize. These form large clusters of round, yellow crystals, which in turn block and damage urinary tract channels, causing the kidneys to malfunction.
Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine determined melamine exposure increased the onset of urinary tract and kidney stones by seven times in children. Officials, at the time, estimated 20 percent of the dairy companies tested in China sold products tainted with melamine.
The whistleblower to the milk scandal, a general manager of a dairy plant in one of the affected providences, 44-year-old Jiang Weisuo, died under suspicious circumstances 10 days after being stabbed in November 2012.
Regardless of the seemingly stringent quality control allegedly placed on the manufacture of the milk-formula in China, products still manage to test positive for hormones, industrial chemicals, and infants require emergency medical care for reactions linked to dangerous formula.
Forbes reports, in the past year three different Chinese companies – Mengniu, Ava Dairy and Yili group – have run into problems. The first two recalled baby formula containing high amounts of aflatoxin, a fungal carcinogen probably introduced via the feed for cows. Yili issued a recall of its formula due to high mercury contamination.
As a result of the pervasive formula pollution problem in the country new mothers, who are disinclined to breastfeed, are importing foreign formula from Hong Kong and surrounding countries, risking the possibility of arrest in doing so for the safety of their infants. The demand for foreign formula is so high that retailers in UK and other countries are rationing sales in order to prevent shortages.
Initially Chinese parents sought untainted formula in Hong Kong. Massive demand to import formula led to an unusual reaction. Governmental pressure ultimately led to Hong Kong authorities placing limits, barring all customers from purchasing more than two cans of formula per day. Violators face up to two years in prison and a $64,500 fine.
Discouraged, parents ventured to Japan. But after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, concerns stirred over the possible spread of radioactive contamination.
Thus demand increased outside of Asia. Retailers in the UK and Australia, unfortunately followed Hong Kong’s precedent of rationing the number of buyable containers and imposing potential penalties, while local retailers take advantage and nearly charge twice as much for the same can of powder.
It’s predicted infant formula may become a hot trafficked item by criminals, as well as an increase in deaths if the Chinese Government doesn’t act on the concerns of the parents.
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