The Chinese government’s quality watchdog has found that nearly 10 percent of milk samples from the country’s three leading dairy companies were contaminated with the chemical melamine. The discovery has sparked more outrage among consumers and forced supermarkets across the country and also in Hong Kong and Singapore to remove dairy products of several big Chinese brand names from their shelves.
Shelves have been emptied from tainted milk products at this supermarket in Shanghai
The queue in front of the children’s hospital in Shanghai has become much shorter than a few days ago, but parents and babies still need to wait four hours on average for an ultrasound examination. The clinic has set aside a separate section where a team of specialists conduct the checkups. On Thursday, the Shanghai city administration officially requested all parents of children below three years of age to check which brand of milk they used. It also indicated that hospital checkups would be free of charge.
This has also attracted Zhao Xin from neighbouring Zhejiang province, who has been feeding her 21-month-old son with the notorious "Sanlu" brand powdered milk since last December: "The child is still so small", she says. "We had no idea! If this news hadn't come, who knows how long I would have fed him this milk. My child cries every night when urinating. We never knew why -- and always thought this was normal."
No compensation without receipts
In Shijiazhuang city in Hebei province hundreds of parents protested in front of the Sanlu company headquarters, demanding compensation. The Zhao family has also tried to get some compensation from the company, says Zhao Xin:
"My husband must have called them twenty times and argued with them. They said we could return the products. But where am I to get the old receipts? I never thought there would be any problem with the milk powder and threw them all away!"
Big names affected
Meanwhile the government agency in charge of quality supervision has said that not only milk powder, but fresh milk, too, was contaminated with the chemical Melamine. The contaminated samples include milk from the country’s three major producers, "Mengniu", "Yili" and "Bright". Altogether 24 of the 295 tested batches from these brands contained Melamine.
Wang Jing who has come to the hospital in Shanghai with her 17-month-old niece says she’ll only feed her rice in future. She has lost all her trust in dairy products, including imported milk.
"I really don’t agree with how the government has handled this case", she says. "This is about little children who can’t even tell when they are not well! The controls must be intensified, and not only when it is already too late. I am very angry. The government must do more for food safety."
No new figures
Since Wednesday, the Chinese health ministry has not announced new figures for the number of children affected with kidney stones. Four have died and 158 are suffering "acute kidney failure".
But observers expect that more than the officially acknowledged 6,244 cases must have been registered in the meantime.
The problems have affected the whole region. In Hongkong, the food safety agency has re-called milk, yoghurt and ice cream of the "Yili" brand from the shops after finding Melamine in them. Singapore has even banned all milk and dairy imports from China.