China baby milk scandal spreads as sick toll rises to 13,000
After several days of silence on how many infants have been affected by tainted milk, China revealed the number had doubled to nearly 13,000 and had spread to include a child in Hong
Underscoring how seriously the government is taking the crisis in its dairy industry after an initial cover-up by the main company involved, Premier Wen Jiabao spent the weekend
visiting babies in hospital, comforting distraught parents and pledging severe punishment for those responsible.
The Health Ministry said the number of children ill after being fed milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical melamine had soared to 12,892 from a previous total of 6,244. Many
of those have already been treated and have left hospital. More than 80 percent of the sick were toddlers under two.
The scandal has spread beyond China’s borders, prompting bans or recalls of Chinese dairy products from Brunei to Japan to Burundi and Gabon.
The contamination is not limited to powdered milk. More than 10 percent of liquid milk produced by China’s top manufacturers had been found to contain small amounts of melamine.
Yoghurt ices have been taken off shelves in Hong Kong. In Singapore even White Rabbit Creamy Candy, one of China’s most popular sweets, has been found to be contaminated.
A three-year-old girl in Hong Kong whose parents took her for a checkup because she had been drinking milk from Chinese dairy giant Yili Industrial Group every day for the past 15
months was found to have a kidney stone. She was discharged from hospital and doctors said they hoped surgery would not be necessary. Yili was among 22 companies whose products have
been recalled for melamine contamination.
Hong Kong Disneyland announced it had dropped China’s biggest dairy, Mengniu, as milk supplier to the part. Late last week, Starbucks said it was pulling Mengniu milk from its
more than 300 café across China.
It is not only Chinese brands that have been affected. Yesterday (Sunday), the Hong Kong government said tests had found melamine in a Chinese-made Nestle brand milk for catering use
and ordered the product recalled. The amount of melamine – an industrial chemical usually used in plastics and glue – did not pose a serious health risk. Nestle said it was
confident none of its Chinese-made products were tainted with the chemical.
The Chinese premier said that those responsible would face the full force of the law. Nearly two dozen people have been arrested, including the head of the Sanlu Group whose baby
formula has been held responsible for four infant deaths so far and workers at collection centres who added melamine to milk to boost its protein count.
Premier Wen visited hospitals, patting babies and watching as doctors performed ultrasound checks on the kidneys of toddlers. “We must make the physical health of the public a
priority. The most crucial point is that after a clean-up there can be no problems at all with newly produced milk products.
“If there are fresh problems, they must be even more sternly punished under the law.”