(Associated Press –
By AUDRA ANG
The government has been struggling to deal with health and
public relations issues stemming from the scandal, which erupted last month
and is increasingly affecting
The crisis has been blamed on dairy suppliers who are accused of adding melamine to watered-down milk to fool quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein.
Melamine, used in products including plastics, paint and
adhesives, can lead to kidney stones and possibly life-threatening kidney
failure. The deaths of at least four babies in
Wang Xuening, a Health Ministry official, on Wednesday acknowledged that small amounts of melamine can leech from the environment and packaging into milk and other foods, but said that deliberate tainting is explicitly forbidden.
"For those who add melamine into food products, their legal responsibility will be investigated," said Wang, deputy director of the ministry's health supervision bureau.
Melamine limits considered safe were set at 1 milligram per kilogram of infant formula and 2.5 milligrams per kilogram for liquid milk, milk powder and food products that contain more than 15 percent milk.
Chen Junshi, a researcher for
"They will help assess whether melamine was intentionally added," Chen said. "If the amount exceeds one milligram, we have reasons to believe it was intentionally added. If the amount is below one, it's very likely that it is because it existed in the environment."
There had been no previous standards. Levels of melamine discovered in batches of milk powder recently registered as much as 6,196 milligrams per kilogram. Chinese health officials have said no harm comes from consuming less than 0.63 milligrams per kilogram.
Guidelines in Hong Kong and New Zealand say melamine in food products is considered safe at 2.5 parts per million or less, though Hong Kong has lowered the level for children under 3 and pregnant or lactating women to one part per million.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration said last week that its experts have concluded that eating 2.5 parts per million of melamine _ a minuscule amount _ would not raise health concerns, even if a person ate food every day that was laced with the chemical.
The Philippine health secretary said Wednesday that traces of melamine have been found in a third imported Chinese-made milk product, Jolly Cow Slender Milk, which had already been taken off shelves.
The State Council has also ordered hospitals to provide free treatment for sick infants.
The crisis has forced the government to fire local and even high-level officials for negligence, while repeating earlier promises to raise product safety standards. 10-08-08
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