by David Accomazzo
More than 1,250 babies have fallen ill with kidney stones in China after drinking powdered baby formula containing a toxic chemical, melamine, added to make the milk appear to have a higher protein content.
Two Chinese babies have died as a result.
The investigation initially centered on the Chinese manufacturer Sanlu after New Zealand dairy company Fonterra, minority shareholders of Sanlu, alerted New Zealand leaders to the presence of melamine in the Chinese milk. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark then alerted the Chinese central government, which issued the recall.
On Tuesday, the Chinese government announced that melamine had been found in products made by 22 different producers and halted the sale of 69 tainted batches of formula made by those manufacturers.
The Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory on Friday warning customers at Asian markets around the country to be on the lookout for Chinese-made powdered baby formula that might have been imported to the country. It is illegal for nonregistered companies to sell infant formula in the United States.
"[The FDA] received information from the companies who manufacture infant formula for the American market that they are not importing infant formula or source materials from China," the FDA said in a press release.
The FDA has not yet found any contaminated formula in the United States, the release said.
It appears that most of the contaminated milk stayed in China, though some of it made it to Taiwan, according to news reports.
"If that's true, then American customers don't have much to worry about," said David Seckman, executive director of the Natural Products Association.
However, concerns about Chinese-made raw materials has prompted the NPA to open a laboratory in Beijing to allow for easier testing of Chinese ingredients, Seckman said.
The FDA also announced plans earlier this year to establish an office in China to make inspections easier and more effective.
"In the past, the United States and many other countries have employed a strategy of standing at the border trying to catch things that aren't safe," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told the Associated Press. However, the new global economy requires a different tact. "We're changing our strategy from one of trying to catch unsafe products to building safety into the products."
Foods containing melamine, a compound found in products such as dry erase boards, glue, and certain plastics, test artificially high for protein content, which is why manufactures might have added the compound to food products, according to news reports.
Chinese police have arrested at least two and detained 19 others in their investigation.