More than a dozen children in China’s rural Gansu province are sick, and at least one has died due to contaminated baby formula.

Unlike a similar scandal in 2004, where over a dozen children died from being fed fake formula without nutritional value, in this case, the children developed kidney stones, making them sick and killing at least one infant, in rural China. The original cases were in Gansu, but now the BBC reports that other areas are reporting cases:

Xinhua reported on Thursday that other cases had emerged in the provinces of Jiangsu, Shandong, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Anhui and Hunan.

Does this sound a bit familiar?

Last year, there was a big scandal in the US about dogfood and catfood that was killing causing kidney stones and even renal shutdown. It seems that the “contaminated” wheat gluten from China was the cause of the pet food problem…

Both the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate were found to actually be wheat flour, which contains wheat gluten as a component and is less expensive than separated gluten. Melamine and cyanuric acid were most likely added to fraudulently increase the apparent protein content of the flour to allow them to pass as concentrated vegetable proteins.[5]

Reports of widespread adulteration of Chinese animal feed with melamine have raised the issue of melamine contamination in the human food supply both in China and abroad.[6]

But the reason that I put the word “contamination” in quotes is the same reason that I pointed out in my articles on the fake heparin “contamination”: it is not a chemical that would enter into the manufactured substance due to carelessness or accident. It would have to be placed there on purpose, by someone who was aware of how quality control testing was done, to get around ordinary “quality control” testing. Someone with a background in chemistry had to find a chemical that could mimic the more expensive chemical/protein in such testing, while being cheaper than the real thing.

It is not an accident, it is not carelessness, it is criminal fraud, as USAToday pointed out in an article on the petfood contamination.

So the melamine problem was well known, making one wonder why China didn’t inspect the milk formula.

Americans don’t realize that China, like many third world countries, is many countries.

The cities are as modern as any city in Europe or America. But there is a vast hinterland run by local clans and officials, who often have family or business ties with each other. There is a danger not only that the fraud can be covered up by one’s friends, but that fraud can be made to go away by giving “gifts” to inspectors.

A strong central government has always been the Chinese answer to control such local abuse of power, and with globalization, the abuses can quickly outweigh the ability of regulators to ferret out sources of fraud.

So when I read that “China Blames dairy farms for tainted baby formula”, it is similar to my reaction when China started pointing to small local farmers as the cause of the contaminated heparin ingredient.

“The suspects added water to the milk they sold to Sanlu to make more money,” Xinhua said, citing deputy mayor Zhao Xinchao of Shijiazhuang, the city where Sanlu is based. “They also added melamine so that the diluted milk could still meet standards.”

This brings up all sorts of questions: is the milk bought from small farms, or from larger dairy farms with hundred of cows? Where did all these farmers find out how to mix the chemicals, and where did they obtain the chemical to mix with the milk? How long has the scam been going on? Who is inspecting the farms? Would melamine mixed with milk make the milk appear watery? And would melamine survive the processing to make milk into powder?

Without any knowledge of the dairy industry, I can’t answer these questions.

However, the good news is that the milk is being recalled, and unless you buy the brand from a Chinese grocery your kids should be okay.

At least that’s what is being reported.

Me, I worry that the milk powder will be smuggled into places like the Philippines and sold by small vendors under a different brand name. So far, no reports, but like the “hot”meat and smuggled veggies that undercut our local vegetable farmers, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on when a country has thousands of miles of unwatched coastline.

Do you know where your baby’s milk is coming from?


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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