October 25th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd's desperate gamble

EDITORIAL: Can Australia weather the storm?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Defending Australia's independence

CHINA: Milk contamination scandal: tip of the iceberg

NEW ZEALAND: November 8 election: Helen Clark's last hurrah?

FAMILY: Will paid maternity leave help mothers?

VICTORIA: Behind Victoria's radical new abortion law

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Can the US adjust to changing world realities?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Barbarossa II / Our friends

EDUCATION: When the wrong answer is 'right'

SCHOOLS: Minister Gillard backs faulty ranking system

SRI LANKA: Plight of persecuted Tamils worsens

TAIWAN: Ball in Beijing's court for Taiwan's WHO entry

EUROPE: Germany backs Russia against Georgia, Ukraine

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Health and safety obsessions stifle childhood

BOOKS: BLUE PLANET IN GREEN SHACKLES: What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom? by Vaclav Klaus

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Milk contamination scandal: tip of the iceberg

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, October 25, 2008
For years, according to US inspection records, China has flooded the United States - and presumably other Western countries, including Australia - with foods unfit for human consumption. Peter Westmore reports.

China's recent milk contamination scandal that led to the death of four Chinese babies and the hospitalisation of some 50,000 others in China, followed by recalls of products using Chinese milk or milk-powder around the world, is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Diluted milk had been deliberately contaminated with a toxic industrial chemical, melamine, to create the appearance of being higher in protein.

The scandal has focussed attention on the lack of quality control in food manufacturing in China.

The contamination was known for months by the Chinese manufacturer and Chinese Government officials, before they were forced to reveal the scandal under pressure from the New Zealand co-owner of the business, Fonterra.

Last year, the Washington Post revealed that the US Food and Drug Administration had refused nearly 300 food shipments from China, over the first four months of 2007.


These included dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical, frozen catfish laden with banned antibiotics, scallops and sardines coated with putrefying bacteria and mushrooms laced with pesticides. (Washington Post, May 20, 2007).

For years, according to US inspection records, China has flooded the United States with foods unfit for human consumption. And for years, FDA inspectors have simply returned to Chinese exporters the small portion of those products they caught - many of which turned up at US borders again, making a second or third attempt at entry.

"So many US companies are directly or indirectly involved in China now, the commercial interest of the United States these days has become to allow imports to come in as quickly and smoothly as possible," said Robert Cassidy, a former assistant US trade representative for China, and more recently director of international trade and services for Kelley Drye Collier Shannon, a Washington law firm.

As a result, the United States finds itself "kowtowing to China", he said, although China keeps sending American consumers adulterated and mislabelled foods.

The Epoch Times magazine, produced by former Chinese nationals living in the West, has recently quoted an official Chinese government source disclosing that melamine has now been found in vegetables.

The Epoch Times said, "In addition to the melamine found in dairy products made in China, Chinese media now reports that the contaminant has also been found in vegetables throughout the country."

It quoted China's Economics and Finance (Cai Jing) magazine saying, "Recently, experts have investigated and confirmed that melamine has also been found in lettuce, water cress, tomatoes, mushrooms, potatoes and other agricultural products. There is 17 milligram of melamine per kilogram of mushrooms."

The report said that it is common practice to add melamine - a chemical toxin that contributes to boosting the nutritional profile of food products - into livestock feed in China. It also found that sodium nitrite and other cancer-causing chemicals were added to feed during production.

The report pointed out that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in 2007 that the pesticide cyromazine could produce melamine when it began to decompose. This could explain why vegetables treated with cyromazine later contained traces of melamine.

Cai Jing said, "In most cases, melamine and other chemicals discharged by the manufacturer are all added into the feed. Other components found in Chinese feed include urea, ammonia, silica, potassium nitrate, sodium nitrite, glacial acetic acid, activated carbon materials and more. Sodium nitrite is a carcinogenic substance recognised by the international community."

The problem is now new, but Western countries, including Australia, have done little about it.

In October 2005, Today Tonight on the Seven Network conducted a segment on this subject. It reported that "some imported vegetables may be so contaminated they could make consumers sick". It reported tests conducted by AusVeg, the Australian Vegetable and Potato Growers Federation, which found:

• Baby corn from China: tests found an alarming 240 E. coli microbials per gram, a total of 8.5 million through the corn. The acceptable level is zero.

• Snow peas: 110 per gram. The acceptable level is zero.

• Sugar peas: 400 E. coli. The level should be zero.

• Garlic and frozen cauliflower: lower, but more than 3 E. coli per gram. Again, the acceptable level is zero.

In China, untreated animal waste and human excrement from nearby toilet blocks were being used as fertiliser on hectares of vegetables, including cauliflower, celery, cabbages, snow peas and corn. These vegetables were grown for export to many countries, including Australia.

Infectious diseases physician Professor Peter Collignon said, "The trouble at the moment is, trade seems to outweigh public health and we need to make sure public health has pre-eminence rather than money."

- Peter Westmore

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