One of the hottest news this week is the China Milk Scare scandal. Infant formula was contaminated with melamine. To date, 4 infants have died and thousands affected. The crisis has since spread from just formula milk to other dairy products, such as butter,cream and yogurt. As a result, Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has suspended in the sale and import of all China milk and diary products. Melamine is a toxic industrial chemical that can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure. Milk suppliers are believed to have added it to watered-down milk to make it appear that the milk has sufficient protein content.
Some time back, there was a pet food scare in the US where pets died of kidney failure due to the consumption of melamine-tainted pet food, which was subsequently traced back to China. It was then found out that it was a common practice among Chinese farmers to supplement their animal feeds with melamine because melamine, which has no nutritional value, appears as protein in lab tests. Hence, it makes the livestock appear to have high protein level in their meat. Even though, according to reports, only 10% of China’s liquid milk is affected by the contamination, consumers and even authorities have no way of knowing how far-reaching the contamination actually is. A lot of consumer products contain diary, e.g. cookies, and our local favourite – The White Bunny milk candy. Due to globalisation and outsourcing of production processes, even reputable brands, e.g. Meiji and Magnum, are not spared.
For the moment, the infant formula available locally in Singapore are safe. But how do we know that something like this will not happen to infant formula produced by Abbott and Nestle in the future? Do we even know where they get their ingredients? It is not the first time infant formula contamination has happened. I am sure this will also not be the last time. As products are being recalled and shelves emptied of infant formula, Chinese parents are now faced with another issue : what can they feed their babies? A lot of their babies are formula-fed and now that safe infant formula are not available, their babies cannot go back to breastfeeding. Even if imported formula are available, a lot of these parents cannot afford them.
As a breastfeeding mother – I am still breastfeeding my 20-month old – I am just glad that regardless of food scares, or natural disasters that cut off supply of clean water, electricity and food supplies, at least I am assured that my baby will not starve. Hopefully, this latest food scare in China will serve as a wake-up call for the mothers in China to recognise the importance of breastfeeding. In fact, this incidence should give us all, especially those of us who still think that breastfeeding is irrelevant in our ‘modern society’, something to think about because it would be quite foolhardy to think that such thing will ‘only happen to someone else but not me’.