The number of Chinese infants sick in hospital after drinking tainted milk formula has leapt to nearly 13,000 and Premier Wen Jiabao threatened harsh punishment for culprits in the latest blight on the "made-in-China" brand.
The Health Ministry said the toll of children ill from milk powder contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine had risen from a previously announced total of 6,244 --- which included many who had left hospital --- to 12,892.
Another 39,965 children had "received clinical treatment and advice" before being sent home.
More than 80 percent of the sick were aged under two. So far, four deaths have been blamed on toxic milk powder causing kidney stones and agonizing complications, and 104 children are in a serious condition. ~ Reuters, 22 Sept. 2008
This scandal puts another stain on the "made-in-China" product image. Remember the White Rabbit candy controversy last year? Remember the poisoned pet food and toothpaste, and the lead-laced toys? All these came from China, and this sends a worldwide message that the Chinese authorities might not really be doing a stricter job in ensuring the safety of its products.
The culprit in the latest scandal is melamine. It is a chemical additive that milk manufacturers add to milk in order to boost the protein content, and is useful, when they want to easily pass quality control tests. Fooling quality control tests is a sly businessman's tactic. It is a business strategy which cuts on capital product costs, but does more harm later on, because milk companies will surely face the problem of massive product recalls.
Also, this is not the first time the Chinese did this. Last year, the US FDA found white granular melamine in the pet food causing the recall of Chinese pet food imported from China. Why was it done in the first place? Again, for the same reasons as the milk scandal today. They wanted to make it appear that their food products have higher protein content.
The health problem arises when continuous ingestion of melamine occurs. This often leads to kidney and bladder stones, and even bladder cancer. If adults are susceptible, children and infants are more at risk, since their urogenital systems are still developing.
One more thing that caught my attention are the images I saw in the news lately:
These are Chinese babies undergoing intravenous insertions using their scalps. This is not a pleasant experience for babies, their parents, and the doctors concerned. I hope the issue gets resolved soon.
UPDATE: According to CNN, more than 52,000 children are now affected.