Concerns over Chinese exports again dominated the headlines following reports that four infants in China had died from formula made with milk contaminated with melamine. Some 53,000 children were sickened by contaminated milk products.
Melamine is the same chemical that earlier was found to have been mixed with pet foods linked with thousands of pet deaths in the United States, prompting massive pet food recalls. Melamine is used for industrial purposes such as leather tanning, coatings and laminates, wood adhesives, fabric coatings, ceiling tiles, and flame retardants.
Inspectors from the Chinese government found that more than 20 Chinese dairy farms and plants had diluted milk and added melamine so their products would appear to have higher protein levels. Eighteen people were arrested in connection with the scandal.
Following reports of the contamination, much of Asia, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam, banned the import of Chinese milk products. The scare spread from milk products to food products that contain milk powder and milk protein. The British supermarket chain Tesco reported that samples of White Rabbit Creamy Candies in New Zealand were found to have unacceptably high levels of melamine, and the chain removed the candies from its shelves worldwide.
While the EU does not import milk or other diary products from China, the EU barred imports of any products from China containing more than 15 percent milk powder.
In the United States, there have been no reports to date of contaminated milk products from China. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration focused its investigations on Asian food stores in areas with large Chinese communities, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York. "To date, investigators have visited more than 1,000 retail markets and have not found Chinese infant formula present on shelves in these markets," the FDA reported. The agency has broadened its search for other food items imported from China that may contain milk or milk proteins.
Read about the EU's ban of products containing Chinese milk powder at news.bbc.com.uk.
Read about the FDA's investigation into the melamine contamination at fda.gov.