Melamine in milk products in China: Examining the factors that led to deliberate use of the contaminant
On September 11, 2008, the Chinese government announced a recall of infant milk powder that was tainted by melamine, a chemical usually used in plastics. Consumption of melamine caused infants to develop kidney stones which, if left untreated, could cause renal failure and death. More than 290,000 people (most of them infant children) were poisoned and at least six babies are confirmed to have died from ingesting the melamine contaminated infant milk powder. The Chinese government imposed very high penalties on people and companies involved in the melamine scandal, including lifetime prison sentences and even executions. The problems in China's dairy industry were a result of rapid growth fueled by large investments from multinational dairy firms, development of a highly modern and concentrated processing sector that obtained its raw materials from millions of small, poor and uneducated traditional farmers and government support and encouragement for growth but with little emphasis on inspection and safety issues. The melamine crisis prompted the Chinese government to bring in a new food safety law, mandate regular inspections of all companies involved in the food business with no exemptions and set new allowable tolerances for melamine in dairy products.
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