Wednesday, October 8, 2008

China milk products contaminated with melamine sold in the Philippines

Health experts say ingesting a small amount of the chemical poses no danger, but melamine, usually used to make plastics and fertilizer, can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure. Infants are particularly vulnerable.

A third milk product from China sold in the Philippines was found to be contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, but health authorities sounded less worried about the extent of its effect on consumers.

Jolly Cow Slender High Calcium Low Fat Milk (1 liter), which comes in a red and white box, has a melamine level of four parts per million (ppm).

“That is high because (the level) should be zero,” Ma. Lourdes Santiago, officer in charge of the Bureau of Food and Drugs’ (BFAD) laboratory services, said at a press conference at the Department of Health Wednesday.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Jolly Cow Slender High Calcium Low Fat Milk had already been withdrawn from store shelves.

At the same time, the BFAD cleared 21 dairy products, including some ice cream and chocolate products for being melamine-free.

Melamine-contaminated milk has killed at least four children and sickened at least 54,000 others in China, prompting a worldwide recall of milk products from China.

The BFAD announced on Oct. 3 that Greenfood Yili Fresh Milk (with labels in Chinese characters) and Mengniu Drink (in Chinese characters) had tested positive for melamine.

Jolly Cow Pure Fresh Milk was among the 28 milk and milk-related products that the agency had found to be negative for melamine.

When added to milk, melamine, which is normally used to make plastics, makes the milk look richer in protein than it really is.

There are other Jolly Cow milk products in the market, some of which are not from China.

Registered distributor

The BFAD said Fly Ace Corp. was the registered distributor of Jolly Cow Slender High Calcium Low Fat Milk.

Fly Ace Corp.’s accountability has yet to be determined since this depends on whether the company continued to sell the product after the Sept. 22 ban against all milk and milk-related products from China, according to Duque.

BFAD officials at the press conference could not say when the product samples of Jolly Cow Slender were collected.

They also could not say whether Jolly Cow Slender was registered with the BFAD. If registered, it meant that the product was not smuggled. Greenfood Yili Fresh Milk and Mengniu Drink were not registered with the agency.

90 products to be tested

While the BFAD has around 90 more milk and milk-related products to test for melamine, Duque played down the effects of having at least three melamine-contaminated products sold in the Philippine market.

“There are so far no reports of children and adults affected. There are no reports of casualties. There are more people dying of dengue every day,” Duque said.

He said it was high time to take into consideration the equally more important but sidelined public health issues. “Let’s not focus on melamine.”

Duque said developing kidney problems from the consumption of contaminated milk was “unlikely” among adults because they were able to eat other food.

“Our concern is more on children aged 0 to 36 months because of the report from China,” he said.

He, nevertheless, advised people who have consumed contaminated milk to see a doctor if they experienced painful urination and pain in the area of the kidneys.

Duque was unclear about possible compensation for people who fell sick for consuming melamine-tainted milk. “We’ll take that up with the Chinese Embassy,” he said.

The BFAD has trimmed down to around 90 items on its list of 200 milk products to be tested.

This was after the Philippine Embassy in China came out with a newspaper ad Wednesday advising against the consumption of milk products made by 22 Chinese milk companies, including Yili and Mengniu.

BFAD Director Leticia Gutierrez said her office had also prioritized testing the seven food products that the privately-run Qualibet Testing Services Inc. claimed it had found to be positive for melamine.

Meat products

Qualibet has said that out of 14 food products it tested, seven turned out positive for melamine, including a popular brand of luncheon meat.

The company submitted its product samples to the BFAD on Monday.

Gutierrez also said the BFAD would test meat products upon the request of the Department of Agriculture.

“After we shall have finished with the prioritized milk and milk products, we shall wait for a report of other products outside of the milk that might be contaminated with melamine,” Duque said.

The BFAD has received reports of establishments that continue to sell or to store banned milk from China.

BFAD legal officer Emilio Polig said the agency had yet to investigate the Sta. Lucia Metro East supermarket in Cainta, Rizal and a warehouse in Balintawak, Quezon City where sacks of unlabeled milk from China were found.

Cleared products

The latest cleared products are Anmum Materna milk powder (chocolate flavor) 400 g, Bear Brand choco 300 g, Bear Brand sterilized milk 200 ml, Cadbury choclairs, Carnation Calcium Plus nonfat milk powder and Klim instant full cream milk powder.

Milo chocolate bar 40 g, Monmilk breakfast walnut milk beverage, Monmilk high calcium low fat milk 1 liter, Monmilk milk deluxe pure milk, Nestlé chocolate-flavored ice cream; Nestlé Dairy Farm pure milk; Nestlé fresh milk 1 liter; Nestlé Kit Kat; Nestlé milk chocolate 40 g.

Nestlé Pops Ice Cream, Nestlé vanilla-flavored ice cream, Nestogen 1 DHA (now Nestogen One), Nesvita cereal milk drink, Nutri-Express milk drink (green apple flavor) 500 ml, Prime Roast instant nutritious cereal 28 g.

Customs bans 22 milk brands

Also Wednesday, the Bureau of Customs banned the entry of 22 milk brands from China which were previously proven to be tainted with traces of melamine.

Any shipment of the milk brands will be immediately condemned, said Jairus Paguntalan, chief of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS).

“Once condemned, we can find ways to return it to China or disposed,” Paguntalan told reporters.

The list was based on an advisory from the Philippine Embassy in Beijing on banned milk products in China.

The country has so far imported more than 2 million kilograms of milk from China this year, according to the customs bureau.
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