The scare from contaminated China-made milk products has become real for the Philippines, Russia and Vietnam and caused tempers to flare up violently in Taiwan.
Two milk products imported from China and sold in the Philippines have tested positive for melamine, Philippine health officials said Friday. The officials ordered that the products be removed from store shelves immediately.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd said authorities suspect that the milk products, under the brand names Greenfood Yili Fresh Milk and Mengniu Original Drink Milk, were illegally smuggled into the country, as they do not have labels in English.
Duque played down any fears of a public-health scare stemming from consumption of the two brands.
He said the government has shut down a Manila supermarket found to be selling the brands.
“There have been no reports coming from our hospitals, whom we ordered to report to us cases of kidney problems that may have some associations with the intake of milk tainted with melamine,” Duque said.
Based on records of the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD), there is no registered infant formula produced in China being imported into the country.
28 brands cleared
The Health department, meanwhile, cleared 28 other milk products being sold in local stores after tests on them for melamine contamination turned out negative.
These milk products are Anchor Lite Milk, Anlene High Calcium Low Fat milk UHT, Bear Brand instant, Chic Choc milk chocolate, Farmland skim milk, Jinwei Drink, Jolly Cow pure fresh milk, Kiddie Soya Milk Egg Delight, Lactogen 1 DHA infant formula, M&M milk chocolate candies, M&M peanut chocolate candies, Milk Boy, Nestogen 2 DHA follow-up formula, Nestogen 3 DHA follow-up formula, Nido 3+ prebio with DHA, Nido Full Cream milk powder, Nido Jr., No-sugar chocolate of Isomalt 2 Oligosaccharide, Nutri Express milk drink, Pura UHT fresh Milk, Snickers fresh roasted in caramel nougat in thick milk chocolate, Vitasoy soya milk drink, Wahaha Orange, Wahaha Yellow, Want Want Milk Drink, Windmill Skim Milk Powder, Yinlu Milk Peanut, and Yogi Yogurt Flavored Milk Drink.
While these 28 products were already cleared, Duque said the temporary ban would continue on Chinese products particularly those that would still undergo tests.
The 30 milk products were the first ones tested. Some 20 products are still undergoing tests, results of which will be released early next week.
Duque appealed to private laboratories not to conduct their own testing without coordinating with the Bureau of Food and Drugs first.
He said that the bureau has the only authority to release results of tests for possible melamine contamination of milk products.
The bureau said it plans to test about 200 food products imported from China that contain milk.
Health authorities said they would work with other government agencies to stop the importation and sale of contaminated milk products from China. They also plan to file charges against those who will be arrested selling or distributing such products.
Melamine, an industrial chemical, can cause kidney failure and was blamed for the death of at least four children in China and more than 50,000 others falling ill from it.
The scare from this chemical has cost the Philippine distributor of the popular Snickers chocolate bar millions.
“We’ve lost P30 million in revenues since the melamine scare started,” Henry Azcarraga, the country head of MARS Inc., told reporters during inspection of the company’s imported products at the Bureau of Customs on Friday.
The bureau held release of MARS’ P5-million worth of imported chocolate products from China pending results of laboratory tests and analyses to be done by health offices.
Azcarraga said the chocolates that MARS distributes in the country have been given clearance by the governments of Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.
The company is also the local distributor of M&Ms and Dove chocolate bars that are highly popular among children and teenagers.
In September, Manila ordered Chinese-made milk products to be removed from grocery shelves after tests revealed widespread contamination with melamine, which also makes products appear to have more protein.
The move of the Philippines’ Health department to take out from stores contaminated China-made products will not affect trade relations between Manila and Beijing, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said also on Friday.
But Dureza added that China must be more concerned about the issue and should move fast to prevent further exports of the toxic products.
Around the region
In Vietnam, the country’s food-safety watchdog said also on Friday that it had found melamine in 18 milk and dairy products imported from China as well as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The toxin was discovered in milk, creamer and biscuit products, which had all been taken off supermarket shelves, the food safety authority and Health ministry said in statements on their websites.
Chinese milk producer Yili and Malaysian biscuit brands Khong Guan and Khian Guan were among the items containing melamine.
Tropical Vietnam does not have a large dairy industry and imports most milk products from neighboring China and Southeast Asia.
Many parents and kindergartens in Vietnam said they would cut milk from their children’s diet, media reports said.
But the Health ministry said: “Kindergartens and schools are strongly recommended not to cut milk from children’s menu to ensure enough nutrition.”
It has banned milk products of unclear origin and threatened to punish companies violating food hygiene and safety regulations.
In Russia, authorities seized 1.7 tons of Chinese milk powder after banning imports over a deadly contamination scandal in the Asian country, Interfax news agency said Friday.
“We found 1.7 tons of dry milk produced in China in [the far eastern city of] Khabarovsk. We are confiscating it,” Russia’s consumer protection chief Gennady Onishchenko was quoted as saying.
The Russian government announced an import ban on all Chinese dairy products on Tuesday.
The restrictions were imposed on reports of the melamine toll on Chinese babies.
In Taiwan, its Health minister was hospitalized also on Friday after he was allegedly attacked by opposition lawmakers angry over the government’s response to the widening scandal over tainted Chinese milk products, witnesses said.
Television footage broadcast on several networks showed the minister, Yeh Ching-chuan, being surrounded by a group of people, as reporters shouted, “How can lawmakers hit people? Don’t use violence.”
A lawmaker from the ruling Kuomintang at the scene, Chang Sho-wen, said the scuffle erupted when several opposition members of parliament tried to prevent Yeh from leaving the parliament after a meeting with bakery owners and MPs.
Yeh was later hospitalized for heart palpitations and dizziness, said a spokeswoman for the National Taiwan University Hospital.
A public-health expert best known for leading Taipei through the SARS crisis in 2003 as the capital’s deputy mayor, he took over as Health minister last week after predecessor Lin Fang-yue resigned over the tainted milk scandal.
Taiwan has banned all Chinese dairy imports and ordered those products already imported to be tested for traces of melamine.
Yeh said Thursday that six China-produced Nestlé products were pulled from store shelves after they were found to contain low levels of melamine, but insisted the contamination did not pose a significant health risk.
Nestlé Taiwan criticized the move, saying the levels were insignificant and that the government’s decision would cost it at least one billion Taiwan dollars ($31.15 million).
– Rommel C. Lontayao, Angelo S. Samonte, Anthony Vargas And AFP (ManilaTimes)
Sec. Duque seems to be building his name for something. Maybe its 2010 polls, maybe not. But his recent cries on the Melamine ek-ek shows us that he’s a bit hungry for publicity. Why don’t he welcome private groups initiative? After all, the final say will be coming from his office naman eh. Just asking.
Anyway, he lacks the appeal to win a senatorial race. If ever he’s doing this for that ends.