Tuesday, February 7, 2012


It is sad to see a country like China struggling to cope up with food frauds in spite of the brutal state power available with the government to punish the culprits with even capital punishment. How far the corruption at the government level influences the attitude of adulterators is not clear. The incident of Melamine tainting of infant food that killed and maimed many children, which is not easy to erase from memory, has dented the image of this country considerably and any effort to seriously address the systemic failure is not viewed with confidence by the citizens as well as international buyers of Chinese foods. Now comes the news that Milk being produced by one of the leading dairies in that country is contaminated with the deadly Aflatoxin at levels not considered acceptable in many countries, further straining the credibility of food safety administration of there. Here is a gist of the news report which gives further insight into the episode.  

"China has discovered excessive levels of a cancer-causing toxin in milk produced by one of the nation's leading dairy companies, the firm said, in the latest in a series of food safety alarms. The government's quality watchdog found high levels of an aflatoxin, which is caused by mould, in milk produced by the Mengniu Dairy Group, the company said in a statement issued Sunday. Mengniu said the milk, produced at one of its plants in the southwestern province of Sichuan, was tested before being sold so the contaminated milk never reached the market. China is trying to crack down on product safety violations to reassure citizens and restore faith in the government after a series of high-profile scandals. Milk was at the centre of China's biggest food safety scandal in 2008 when the industrial chemical melamine was found to have been illegally added to dairy products to give the appearance of higher protein content. At least six babies died and another 300,000 became ill after drinking milk tainted with melamine. Product safety problems have been found in goods ranging from pharmaceuticals to cooking oil. In September, the government arrested 32 people over the sale of cooking oil made from leftovers taken from gutters. Aflatoxins can be found in milk after cows consume feed contaminated by mould and can increase the risk of cancer, including liver cancer, according to the World Health Organisation. Mengniu said the products had been destroyed, and apologised to consumers".

The explanation that the affected milk supply came from cattle, fed with animal feeds containing high levels of Aflatoxin which is generated due to growth of the mold Aspergillus under unsatisfactory conditions of storage or use of Aflatoxin tainted ingredients like groundnut cake, cannot be an excuse to condone such dangerous episodes. If the production of cattle feed or processing of milk is managed under HACCP regime, such an incidence could not have happened. One can only hope that adequate lessons will be learned from this unfortunate incidence of milk poisoning.  


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