Saturday, April 4, 2009

Recall of Baby Formula

In 2004, it was recorded in a Sciencebase news article (1) that over a dozen children in China had died do to a lack of nutrition from their baby formulas, so Sanlu Group, a Chinese dairy producer and one of the most popular makers of baby formula, decided to add an extra nutritious ingredient. Not only did the nutritional values increase, especially the protein values, but it was cheaper to make and it made a huge profit for the company. What the company did not realize was that they were poising the infants in China.

Melamine is an industrial chemical that is often used in the productions of plastics and fertilizers and if “swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed by skin can be harmful” (1). It can also be a carcinogen and even damage the reproductive system. Melamine can be difficult to detect in analyses especially in protein readings because it is a non-protein nitrogen. According to reports from Times Online (2), the formulas that contained this melamine chemical were actually “fake formulas” with the Sanlu Group labels, even though it was not really them producing it. Sanlu Group was not willing to own up to the fact that they happened to make a mistake and accept the consequences; they just put the blame on someone else. Over 65 different formulas from 22 companies were declared dangerous and over 700 tons of milk formula was recalled (4). There were more than 1200 infant deaths in China that might have been prevented if there were tests that were able to detect a problem before it caused damage that extreme.

Baby formulas were not the only Chinese product that had been recalled due to the amounts of Melamine. Dog and cat food contained melamine and many house hold pets in the United States were infected. Doctors and scientists were able to connect the two due to similar symptoms; kidney stones located in different parts of the body, then to kidney failure, and eventually death.

After reading “Do We Need a Department of Food?” debate, I am kind of in between the ideas of David A. Kessler, the former F.D.A. commissioner, and Bill Marler, a lawyer who specializes in contaminated food cases. Having a single department that focuses solely on the mission to keep food safe might not be a bad thing, but there are always consequences that get brought up. According to Kessler, he believes that the “tools and resources the F.D.A. have are so limited that most problems go undetected” (3). With a new building and system, malfunctions are more likely to be found before major problems arise in the economy. Marler seems to think in kind of the same way; that the health of the country should be the number one priority, but a new department is not the solution. He believes that the addition does not actually fix the problems of food safety, but actually increases the bureaucracy within a nation. Marler also states that “emergency room physicians and primary care doctors” (3) should play a larger role in the safety of food production. They are the ones who deal with people who are sick with food poisonings and if there is a large pattern of people with the same symptoms, they should report to the F.D.A. and action may be taken. I believe that something does need to be done, but maybe not necessarily an entirely new department needs to be added. The government needs to look at the safety of its people and the food that is being produced for them instead of trying to make the most profit. New people need to be in the department that will do this and take out the others who are greedy. Food plants could see more inspections which in turn would help to lessen the number of defects going out. Maybe a couple would still get by, but it might be noticed sooner and would affect a smaller number of people. The scare might be in better control and not completely cause a food plant to go bankrupt like the Sanlu Group has. If they had inspectors, the access melamine in the milk might have been detected and tons would not have been sold to the public, salmonella might not have been a huge outbreak in peanut butter. The Chinese infants might have died yes, but the numbers could have been less significant. By combining the ideas of both Marler and Kessler, I believe that the food industry would be a better industry and more trusted if something gets done. The numbers of scares would also greatly decrease and the people of the world would feel safer knowing that something is being done to keep their health the number one priority.

1. http://www.sciencebase.com/science-blog/melamine-in-milk.html

2. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article4758549.ece

3.http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/do-we-need-a-department-of-food/?scp=1&sq=peanut%20butter%20debate&st=cse

4. http://www.danwei.org/front_page_of_the_day/fake_milk_powder.php

5. http://articlesofhealth.blogspot.com/2009/01/toxic-milk-powder-with-melamine-from.html

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