China: 170 Tonnes More Tained Milk Repackaged Found

The discovery has punched a 170-ton hole in China’s promises to overhaul its food safety system

Officials say they’ve found yet another case where large amounts of tainted milk powder from the country’s 2008 scandal that should have been destroyed were instead repackaged.

China ordered tens of thousands of milk products laced with an industrial chemical burned or buried after more than 300,000 children were sickened and at least six died from the contamination. But, crucially, the government did not carry out the eradication itself, and this month an emergency crackdown has made it clear that tonnes of compromised products are still on the market.

Tainted dairy has recently been found in China’s largest city, Shanghai, and in the provinces of Shaanxi, Shandong, Liaoning, Guizhou, Jilin and Hebei. At least five companies are suspected of reselling tainted products that should have been destroyed, the Health Ministry said last week. The problem products uncovered in the 10-day emergency crackdown have so far been limited to the domestic market.

The campaign is set to end Wednesday, and it’s not clear whether it will be extended. The country’s biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, starts this weekend, and already some offices are closing and millions of people are going on vacation. The health ministry has not commented since the crackdown began, and the China Dairy Association has remained quiet as well.

“The problem is, this is a product with a shelf life of several years. It’s very important that the product is not left unattended,” said Dr Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO senior scientist on food safety based in Beijing. “There’s always a risk it will find a way back into the system.”

The latest discovery underscores the difficulties of policing China’s smaller food producers, despite a sweeping new food safety law that took effect last summer and promised stricter quality controls after the 2008 scandal, which was China’s worst food safety crisis in years.

In the wake of that crisis, China punished dozens of officials, dairy executives and farmers, even executing a dairy farmer and a milk salesman. But the government didn’t destroy seized products itself. Instead, it issued guidelines on how to destroy them, suggesting they be burned in large-capacity incinerators or that small amounts be buried in landfills.

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