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Tainted formula: Could it happen here?

Special to the DailyKelly Coffey
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All my post-Olympic goodwill toward China evaporated. There’s another Chinese recall. This time it’s infant formula.

Thus far there are four babies dead and more than 6,000 sickened (and more expected to come) from tainted infant formula made by Chinese companies. There are no reports of victims beyond the Chinese borders.

It looks like some Chinese milk suppliers watered down their milk, and then added the industrial chemical melamine to their batches to cover their tracks. When milk is tested for protein content (to make sure it’s not watered down) melamine will give an inaccurately high reading. So this isn’t even a “whoops, I knocked over a barrel of melamine” issue. This is willful deception.



Melamine causes kidney stones in infants … and in the case of the deaths, kidney failure.

This bothers me in ways that none of the previous recalls have.



My four-month-old has been breastfed since birth. However, now that my wife returned to work, we also now feed the kid with formula. Currently the kid gets about half her nutrients from breast milk, half from formula.

I now have this little human that’s completely dependent on me for her survival. The thought of poisoning her with tainted formula injects a new fear in me I hadn’t yet felt in my life.

When I first heard this news, I immediately went to my can of Similac baby formula to read the fine print on the label. Nothing stated “made in China.” Yet, our goods are now so intertwined with Chinese manufacturing, I didn’t breath easy.



So I gave them a call.

“All the Similac that we sell in the United States is made in the United States,” said Tracey Noe, spokeswoman for Abbott Nutritionals, makers of Similac. “We do not import milk or milk ingredients from China.”

Similac is manufactured from one of four plants in Ohio, Arizona, Virginia and Michigan. But could a domestic milk supplier do the same thing their Chinese counterparts are?

“Every lot of ingredients from our suppliers are thoroughly tested before use,” Noe said.

The Food and Drug Administration said no infant formula comes into the U.S. from China. Only five companies have met FDA requirements for marketing infant formula in this country, one of which is Abbott Nutritionals.

Yet, melamine-tainted pet food from China got into the U.S. last year, killing and sickening plenty of family pets. What’s the difference between regulation for infant formula and pet food?

“Night and day,” said Judy Leon, spokeswoman for the FDA. “Infant formula is a very highly regulated food product. It might be the only source of nutrition for infants for several months.”

I read a news story of a Chinese father looking over his baby hooked to an IV. The worst part for these families is that it’s not sketchy discount baby formulas that are the problem. This scandal involves the largest dairy companies in China … the most trusted brands. Even the packaging of tainted formula had government seals of approval.

Chinese parents can’t just switch to a more trusted brand. Every infant formula on the shelf is suspect. These parents are wondering how they’re going to feed their babies.

There’s a lot of debate here at home about government regulation involving the current financial crisis. I’m still ambivalent about free market versus regulation when it comes to accounting practices and mortgages. But this latest Chinese scandal makes me very glad our government is looking over the shoulders of our infant formula producers.

Kelly Coffey is a novice father. He shares his mistakes, fears, and laughs along his journey to figure out how anybody could possibly raise a child. E-mail comments or questions about this column to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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