Sat, Nov 15, 2008 - Page 7 News List

US to detain all Chinese milk product imports

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATEAll Chinese products that contain milk will be detained at the US border until tests can prove that they are not contaminated with melamine

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Candy, snacks, bakery products, pet food and other Chinese products that contain milk will be detained at the border until tests prove that they are not contaminated, the US federal government announced on Thursday.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it issued the alert because of concern about such products being contaminated with the toxic chemical melamine. It was discovered in infant formula in September and has sickened more than 50,000 infants in China and killed at least four.

Since that time, melamine has been found in a wide range of other products, including milk, eggs and fish feed. As a result, companies in the US have recalled several products generally sold in Asian specialty stores, including a nondairy creamer and Mr Brown brands of instant coffee and tea. But to date, the contamination here was not thought to be widespread.

“We’re taking this action because it’s the right thing to do for the public health,” said Steven Solomon, a deputy associate FDA commissioner.

But consumer advocates said the agency’s action was too little and too late.

“Although FDA’s action today is a step in the right direction, it does not do enough to ensure consumer safety, especially since melamine contamination in Chinese products continues to broaden,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch.

As a result of the latest alert, Chinese products that contain milk or milk powder will automatically be detained at the border until the manufacturer or its customer has the product tested and it is found to be free of contamination, or they show documentation indicating that the product does not contain milk or milk-derived ingredients.

“The burden shifts to the importer,” Solomon said.

FDA analyses have detected melamine and cyanuric acid, another contaminant, in “a number of products that contain milk or milk-derived ingredients, including candy and beverages,” according to an alert that the agency sent to field personnel. The alert also noted that inspectors in more than 13 other countries had discovered melamine in Chinese products including milk, yogurt, frozen desserts, biscuits, chocolates and cookies.

The agency routinely blocks imports of individual food products, but it is rare for it to block an entire category of one country’s foods. Last year, the FDA blocked five types of farm-raised seafood as well as vegetable protein from China because of repeated instances of contamination.

Unscrupulous food and feed dealers in China add melamine to their products because it artificially inflates protein levels. Because it dissolves poorly, melamine can block the body’s filtering system, potentially leading to kidney failure and death.

Solomon said the alert would likely apply mostly to specialty products sold in Asian markets. But Benjamin England, a former lawyer at the agency, described the latest alert as “massive” and said it could affect “a tremendous amount of goods.”

“It’s going to jam the ports up all the way up the supply chain,” said England, who represents food supply companies.

As a result of the earlier alerts on seafood and vegetable protein, many private laboratories that perform product tests for FDA review already have long waiting lists, England said. In addition, the agency takes three to four weeks to review submitted tests, England said, so delays in shipping will be significant.

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