Health & Medicine

China and food safety

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Empty milk and yogurt shelves in Carrefour in China (image: Marc van der Chijs/Flickr)

The head of the agency in charge of the safety of China's food supply has resigned over the growing tainted baby formula scandal. Four babies have reportedly died and over 50,000 are said to be ill because of the industrial chemical melamine which causes kidney stones and kidney failure, and which it now appears, was known to be in the formula.

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Central China Television is reporting that complaints about the baby formula were made as early as December 2007, but the manufacturers didn't act on those complaints, nor did they report them to the government. Melamine has now been found in infant formula and milk products from twenty-two of China's dairy companies.

Marion Nestle is not surprised. She is a professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, and also the author on a number of food safety and food politics books.

"(China) has a big problem to get under control. Most of the food there is produced in small, backyard operations, 80% of them. It's a very big country. They've never had food and drug laws. They need them very badly, and they need them right away," says Nestle.

Nestle writes that what will happen in China will be what happened in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century.

"I don't think we should be too xenophobic about China. What's going on in China is exactly what went on in the U.S. before we had food and drug laws. In fact, as a result of this kind of behavior, the food and drug laws were passed," argues Nestle. "Decades ago, in 1906."

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