FDA Warns of Products in U.S. Tied to Tainted Milk
(Wall Street Journal)
A little-known brand of instant coffees and teas became the
first recalled product in the U.S.
connected to China's
tainted-milk scandal Friday, while a New Zealand
company tied to severe baby-formula contaminations in China said it
had failed to notify the public for weeks because local Chinese authorities
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers
against drinking seven Mr. Brown coffee and milk-tea products because of
concerns they may be contaminated with melamine, a toxic chemical that in high
concentrations has caused kidney illnesses in 50,000 Chinese infants, and at
least three infant deaths. The FDA said Taiwan-based King Car Food Industrial
Co. is recalling the products over the concern. The FDA has no report of
illnesses in the U.S.,
but the agency now is testing samples, said a spokeswoman.
Late Friday, the FDA said White Rabbit Creamy Candy also was
being recalled by U.S.
distributor QFCO Inc. of Burlingame,
Calif. because of possible
melamine contamination. The popular Chinese candy already has been pulled from
store shelves in New Zealand,
Hong Kong and elsewhere after melamine was
found in samples. The agency also said Friday that it is expanding its testing
of milk-related products sold in the U.S.
The FDA is trying to determine how widespread the candies
and coffees are in the U.S.,
where they are often sold in U.S.
neighborhoods with large Asian populations. The candies -- and Mr. Brown ground
coffees -- often are more common than the recalled brands of instant coffee.
The FDA said checks of hundreds of ethnic markets have found no infant formula
recalls join a new one in Hong Kong, where H.J. Heinz Co. said late Friday it
will recall a batch of 270 cases of baby food because it showed trace levels of
melamine, though the company described the move as a "precaution"
because the levels were far below Hong Kong's
The melamine scandal is taking on added importance because China, already
the world's factory floor, is emerging as a major exporter of food products.
According to government statistics, food and livestock exports in 2007 were up
almost 20% from the year before and 150% from 2000. That doesn't take into
account all the ingredients, such as milk powder, that are being exported for
use in foods prepared overseas.
"It's the world's largest provider of food ingredients
and it's all unregulated," said Leo Hepner, a
London-based food industry consultant.
Initially only a problem with baby formula, traces of
melamine have been found in many dairy products produced in China, sparking the
European Union, India, South Korea and others to recall or ban Chinese
On Friday, the chief executive of New Zealand dairy producer Fonterra
Co-operative Group Ltd. made his first detailed comments about the series of
events -- from early suspicions of problems with baby formula to the public
disclosure of melamine contamination two weeks ago.
Fonterra CEO Andrew Ferrier, whose company has been
criticized by New Zealand's
prime minister and others for not coming forward earlier, repeated the
company's explanation that local Chinese officials forbade a public recall of
poisoned milk. Mr. Ferrier added that local Chinese authorities misled the
company into thinking central health authorities in Beijing had been notified.
Fonterra is 43% owner of Shijiazhuang Sanlu
Group Co., the formula producer with by far the highest levels of melamine
detected. Sanlu's board was informed of the melamine
contamination on Aug. 2, Mr. Ferrier said, though Beijing authorities have said Sanlu officials knew of reports of children becoming sick
after drinking its formula since March. The news didn't become public until
Mr. Ferrier said in a phone interview that the company
struggled to deal with Chinese authorities to ensure a recall "as quickly
as we could in the environment we were working in." He added that the
company was "enormously frustrated" with the lack of public
disclosure. "It gave us in Fonterra a really fundamental dilemma," he
said in the interview.
Local health officials in the city of Shijiazhuang, the home of Fonterra's joint
venture with Chinese partner Sanlu Group, were
"crystal clear," Mr. Ferrier said. "They said you can have a
recall but there's no going public." He said they cited the need to have
social stability as well as protect public health, and that he believed trying
to circumvent their wishes would hurt the recall effort.
central government has fired and detained several local authorities and blamed
them for covering up the contamination. Wu Xianguo,
the Communist Party chief of Shijiazhuang, was
fired Monday for "delaying the reporting of the issue to higher
authorities and incompetence in the disposition," according to a report by
state-run Xinhua News Agency. Shijiazhuang's
local government and China's
health and safety regulators all declined to comment on Fonterra's allegations
Fonterra, a cooperative owned by 11,000 New Zealand
farmers, paid $107 million in 2005 to buy its share of Sanlu.
Sanlu was the first of 22 companies found to have
formula laced with melamine, an industrial chemical sometimes added to boost
the apparent protein levels of low quality milk.
"If information had been reported as soon as it was
learned, we would not have seen an incident of this scale," said Dr. Hans Troedsson, China representative of the World Health
Organization, said in a statement Friday, blaming the actions of local Chinese
authorities and milk suppliers. He did not comment directly on the roles of
Fonterra or Sanlu.
A day after the Aug. 2 board meeting, Mr. Ferrier said,
Fonterra's China directors
health authorities and asked for a "full public recall." Officials
shot down notifying consumers, but backed taking the product off shelves. The
company decided to cooperate, Mr. Ferrier said, because they feared officials
would shut them out. He said Sanlu quietly retrieved
over 10,000 tons of tainted milk powder.
"The other option was to go public outside of China ... to
put pressure on," Mr. Ferrier said. But the company felt it would
"lose control of the whole thing." Aug. 2 was less than a week before
the Olympics, and China's
central government had made order and social stability the number one priority.
"We made the call as we saw it," he said. "At least we were
effective in recalling the product."
Fonterra's executives felt they were misled by local health
officials, who they believed had notified the central government, he said. But
as the weeks passed, Fonterra executives in New
Zealand and Beijing
debated over daily conference calls on how to proceed. On Sept. 5, Mr. Major
formally met with New Zealand
embassy officials in Beijing
for advice. Accounts differ as to whether there were other contacts earlier.
In the U.S.,
the FDA says officials now are checking Asian markets for other Chinese
products that could contain "a significant amount of milk or milk
proteins." It has expanded testing from baby formula to cover milk-derived
ingredients and products containing milk, including candies, desserts,
beverages, and whole milk powder.
Other major U.S.
food manufacturers have said they're not affected by the melamine
contamination. Kraft Foods Inc., the world's second-largest food maker by sales
after Nestlé SA, said its operations outside China do not source any dairy
ingredients from that country. 9-27-08