Tainting of Milk Is Open Secret in
Source of Article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122567367498791713.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
ZHANGZHUANG, China -- Before melamine-laced milk killed and sickened Chinese babies and led to recalls around the world, the routine spiking of milk with illicit substances was an open secret in China's dairy regions, according to the accounts of farmers and others with knowledge of the industry.
Spiking the Milk Supply
routine spiking of milk with illicit substances was an open secret in
about the extent of contamination in
in feed hasn't led to the same kind of high concentrations of the chemical in
eggs that were found when it was directly poured into milk -- thousands of
parts per million in some cases. But amounts found in eggs have been above
the safety standard
Egg sales are
down, as is demand for chicken, and some farmers have begun slaughtering
chickens they can no longer use. State media criticized food companies and
government consumer-protection watchdogs for the lapses, as
of melamine, an industrial chemical used in plastics, say they have noticed
demand for their factory's scrap rising. In the small
China's biggest local seller of liquid milk, Mengniu Dairy Co., and multinational food company Nestlé SA both say they were aware that Chinese farmers and traders added unauthorized substances to raw milk, but that they didn't know melamine was among them. "We knew there was adulteration" going on for many years, says Zhao Yuanhua, Mengniu's spokeswoman. Among other common milk additives: a viscous yellow liquid containing fat and a combination of preservatives and antibiotics, known as "fresh-keeping liquid."
than 2,300 Chinese children remain hospitalized for melamine-related kidney
problems, almost two months after the adulteration was publicly disclosed. At
least three children died and tens of thousands of others were sickened. The
national scandal has badly shaken Chinese consumers' faith in the safety of
their food and reawakened fears abroad about the standards of Chinese
products. Some brands of foods made with Chinese milk, such as candy, have
been recalled as a precaution as far away as the
Melamine's chemical properties boost the apparent presence of protein in food. Actual protein powders -- which farmers are also prohibited from adding to raw milk -- use protein from ground animal parts, soy and other sources. Additive makers sometimes mix melamine with food additives such as the starch derivative maltodextrin, and repackage it for sale to dairy farmers without disclosing the ingredients.
melamine has been mixed into animal feed by producers who want to make the
feed seem as though it is higher in protein than it actually is. Yang Yong,
part owner of a feed mill in
dairy farmers from
One of them, who has raised dairy cows for 20 years and is a farm-association leader, says salespeople for years would go from farm to farm in dairy-cow areas hawking "protein powder" for use as an additive. It would often be delivered in unmarked brown paper bags weighing 25 kilograms, or about 55 pounds, and costing 300 yuan to 400 yuan, or $44 to $60, he says.
About two years ago, farmers and Chinese authorities say, some manufacturers offered a new version of protein powder that they said could still fool dairies that had caught on to other protein additives. It contained melamine, but wasn't labeled as such. "Everyone just called it protein powder," says the second farmer. "Nowhere did it say it was melamine, " he says. "People never thought about it and never thought they needed to know more details."
Liu Wuqiang, another dairy farmer in
Guan Huizhen, the sales manager at Hebei Guangtong Chemical Factory in a city near Zhangzhuang, says people have increasingly come looking for the factory's melamine scrap in recent years. "I never care why my customers buy it," Mr. Guan says.
Dozens of companies producing "protein powder" still advertise online, but many of the links have been shut down since the melamine scandal became public in early September.
man who bought milk from farmers in northern
Mengniu Dairy has essentially engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with suppliers, says Ms. Zhao, the spokeswoman. The firm has varied its tests to try to catch substances being used by farmers. "If we found that levels of dry matter in the milk suddenly rose, we would have to figure out whether some things had been added in," Ms. Zhao says. The company now checks for melamine as well as residues of pesticides, veterinary drugs and antibiotics.
To Nestlé, which uses Chinese milk in products sold almost entirely in China, the unauthorized addition of protein, fat, preservatives and antibiotics to milk "are well-known" problems in China and other developing countries, says Robin Tickle, a Nestlé spokesman. He says the company buys milk directly from producers who receive instructions from Nestlé.
company uses more than 70 tests to assure the safety of Nestle milk. "We
are on the permanent lookout for adulterants," Mr. Tickle says. Yet
regulators in Hong Kong and
Given the intense official attention now directed at milk supplies, people in the industry say they expect that melamine adulteration of milk has largely stopped. But they say the underlying problems for the food supply remain: flaws in farming methods and relatively lax supervision.
China's legions of small-scale dairy farmers are hard to police, and relatively few have the capital and know-how to adhere to good dairy-farming practices, says Qiao Fulong, a Beijing-based dairy consultant whose company, Beijing Farmunity Inc. offers technical advice to farmers. Adulteration has become "a common remedy," he says.
the challenge for milk is the relative newness of dairy cows to
—Kersten Zhang in
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