SHANGHAI — Hong Kong food inspectors have found eggs imported from northeast China to be contaminated with high levels of melamine, the toxic industrial additive at the heart of an adulteration scandal in Chinese milk products.
The findings, reported over the weekend, have raised new concerns that a far wider array of China-produced foods than previously believed could be contaminated with melamine, which has already sickened more than 50,000 children in China and led to at least four deaths.
Scientists in China worry that in addition to being used to adulterate dairy supplies, melamine may have been intentionally added to animal feed in China, according to a report published on Sunday in the South China Morning Post. Tainted chicken and possibly fish and hog feed could result in poisonous meat and seafood, it said.
China is struggling to cope with a milk scandal that has devastated its fast-growing dairy industry and led to a global recall of foods that were made using Chinese dairy products, including pizza, biscuits, yogurt and other goods.
The Chinese government, which first reported melamine-tainted dairy products in mid-September, has vowed to strengthen food safety measures and severely punish those involved in adulterating food.
The government accused rogue dairy producers and middlemen of intentionally spiking dairy supplies with melamine to save money, using the chemical as a cheap filler that can artificially inflate protein readings.
In September, Beijing ordered a huge recall of dairy products and arrested dozens of people suspected of illegally adulterating food with melamine, which is used to produce plastic and fertilizer. But the government has not been clear about whether it has been testing a wider variety of food products for contamination by melamine, which can cause kidney stones and other ailments.
There were also indications over the weekend that the contamination might have reached far more children in China than reported. Health officials said Saturday that a broad survey of homes in Beijing had found that nearly a quarter of the 300,000 families with children younger than 3, about 74,000 families, had a child who had been fed melamine-tainted milk.
At a news conference after an Asian-European economic summit meeting on Saturday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao pledged to strengthen food safety to meet international standards.
He also said the government was partly to blame for the dairy scandal because of “lax supervision.”
The milk scandal surfaced in September, slightly more than a year after tainted pet food was exported to the United States, sickening cats and dogs and touching off global criticism of China’s food safety controls.
Beijing responded defiantly to some critics of its record, but late last year it also announced a lengthy crackdown on shoddy and unsafe food producers and ordered the closing of thousands of slaughterhouses and food factories.
During that time, several Chinese melamine suppliers admitted in newspaper interviews to selling melamine to animal feed operations and fish feed providers in China. The government, however, never reported finding melamine-tainted fish or animal feed in China’s food supply.The discovery of contaminated eggs in Hong Kong was announced Saturday by the Center for Food Safety, a Hong Kong government agency, which said the eggs were imported from a farm in the city of Dalian, in northeastern China. The center reported that the melamine level was almost double the legal limit for food sold in Hong Kong.
source: Hong Kong Finds Eggs From China Tainted
New York Times, United States