Melamine Yogurt Candy Seized As Consumer Confidence Plummets

china-milk-powder-inspection-feb-2010.jpg Chinese law enforcement officers inspect milk powder on sale at a supermarket in Anhui province, in a file photo.

Authorities in the southern province of Guangdong have seized a huge cache of milk-based candy found to be contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, which was first found in infant formula milk in 2008, in the latest in a series of blows to consumer confidence in China.

The manager of a Guangdong factory has been detained after the latest food scandal emerged, sparking yet another food safety investigation, official media reported.

Chinese consumers are reeling in the wake of a string of public health scandals affecting foodstuffs and medicines in recent years, including melamine-tainted infant formula milk, used "gutter" cooking oil, and tainted vaccines.

Earlier this month, investigative journalists working under cover said workers at a factory belonging to international fast food meat supplier OSI Group used expired meat and changed food production dates.

Their findings were later backed up by Shanghai food inspectors.

U.S.-based meat supplier OSI Group has since said it will withdraw all products manufactured by its Shanghai unit from the marketplace, which supplied a number of well-known fast food chains across East Asia.

It was unclear whether any of the milk-based yogurt candy found in Guangdong had been sold.

Six children died and nearly 300,000 fell ill from powdered milk laced with melamine, which had been added to low quality or diluted milk to boost apparent protein levels.

But those who sought to sue or defend their children's rights were blocked from hiring lawyers and frequently became the targets of government persecution.

Children at risk

Guo Caihong, whose child was made ill by melamine-tainted infant formula, said the scandal was yet another threat to the health of China's children.

"Yogurt candy is eaten by kids, and they [put melamine in it] to boost the protein levels," Guo said. "I really worry about food safety in China."

A second parent affected by the melamine scandal, Chen Lu, said there was little government oversight of the food industry, in spite of a number of scandals.

"Our regulatory authorities are just not good enough," Chen said. "It's as if they are just shouting into the wind now."

"I would have expected the regulation of milk products to have got much better, much stricter, in recent years, but they can still come across such huge volumes [of tainted foodstuffs]," she said.

"It's really terrifying."

Chen said her son is still suffering from kidney stones after drinking tainted milk.

"He was in a lot of pain for a few days last month, and couldn't urinate, and I gave him some medicine ... and the results showed a high level of crystals in his urine," she said.

"These don't behave like normal kidney stones, that can be broken down by most medicines; they form much larger stones which are much harder to pass."

'Another blow to confidence'

According to political commentator Qing Lang, consumer confidence was hit particularly hard by the revelations surrounding the food supply chain for major international fast food brands, which have typically been regarded as cleaner, safer bets in China.

"If even foreign fast food has issues and is no longer trustworthy, that is another major blow to Chinese consumer confidence," Qing wrote in a recent commentary carried by RFA's Cantonese Service.

He said the fact that OSI is a wholly U.S.-owned company rather than a Chinese joint venture has also worried consumers.

"If staff at even a multinational corporation are heard to say that out-of-date meat won't kill you, this will be unacceptable to Chinese consumers," Qing wrote.

Reported by Lin Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.