Sunday, September 21, 2008

Yet More Bad Milk

The pernicious nature of food contamination is such that it's only over when it's over. Every headline about the melamine contamination of dairy products in China increases the count of children affected. First it was 1,000, then 6,000. Yesterday it was 12,900, now it's 50,000.

However, this is more than just the unpredictable nature of contamination. The counterfeit milk (it was diluted and then treated with melamine to fool protein tests) has affected 22 brands, not just one as originally believed - and shattered China's efforts to create a trustworthy food supply. The recall was late and sluggish.
The Sanlu company, China’s largest producer of powdered baby formula, received complaints months ago about suspected problems, but the company waited until Aug. 2 to tell local authorities, who waited until Sept. 9 to tell provincial authorities, the provincial authorities said. Sanlu finally recalled 700 tons of the formula on Sept. 11.

One can only wonder why testing for melamine is not a standard practice for manufacturers receiving milk - apparently it takes only minutes. Brands could then provide independent testing certification, and make the information available to consumers to verify. Without this sort of transparency, trust will be tough to rebuild.