Monday, September 22, 2008

Chinese infant formula tragedy, Milk Protein Concentrates and globalization

photo by Jesse McClain, sunrise in paradise

The media blitz of the 2008 Olympic Games in China was overwhelming. I felt somewhat caught up in the fanfare and hopes of some fabulous athletes from around the world. So it is with great irony that it seems that the infant formula tragedy that was onfolding was covered up because of the Olympics. Tragedy compounded upon tragedy. We, who are living on the other side of the world, feel somewhat untouched by it. Legally Chinese infant formula cannot be sold in this country. And according to the FDA, they have been reassured that no ingredients that goes in US infant formula is made in China.
So we distance ourselves from the tragedy. It couldn't happen here. We are safe, everything is inspected.
Sanlu Group of China is the name of the infant formula that seems to have been mostly effected by the contamination, but other Chinese infant formulas were contaminated. A massive recall of many Chinese infant formulas has increased the sales of imported brands of formula, such as Mead Johnson, Wyeth, etc. A number of people have been arrested because it is believed that the formula was watered down first and then melamine (a plastic resin) was used to artificially boost the protein levels in order to pass inspection. Fonterra, who owns 43% of Sanlu and is one of the largest dairy cooperatives in the world, has claimed that this was sabotage. They, too, had to issue a recall on a powdered milk for pregnant women called Anmum.
I was somewhat startled by the fact that Fonterra was so involved in dairying in China as well as manufacturing of milk powder. New Zealand Milk Products is part of the marketing arms of Fonterra. New Zealand Milk Products has a division in the USA. Coincidently, I remembered an infant formula patent called, "Powdered human milk fortifier," that mentioned that it would get its casinates, whey, hydrolyzed caseinates , hydrolyzed whey, milk products, and mineral enriched proteins from New Zealand Milk Products of California.
That got me reading about something called Milk Protein Concentrates (MPC)...used in processed cheeses and in the infant formula industry. According to some US dairy organizations MPCs are not recognized as food and the FDA does not inspect them. MPCs have been used as glues and in the fabric industry. The US imports MPCs. They are not tariffed. I did not write down the metric tons of this product that come into this country but we import alot and it is an ingredient of infant formula. American farmers feel that it has a direct financial impact on them. For some background:

According to a Cornell University dairy workshop, the US is Fonterra's largest economic partner. So it is a small world. We are a global community. Our food passes from one country to another. Many companies use ingredients from other countries. Infant formula feeding is part of our global economy, its safety and value marketed by huge industries who make billions. One would suppose after this tragedy, that governments would make a bigger effort to promote breastfeeding. Yet much of the news releases say nothing about breastfeeding, its protective value. Breastfeeding is each country's national treasure, a child's rightful inheritance of health and safety from this all too cruel world.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

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