China Milk Scandal: Mercury found in Yili baby formula

China is embroiled in a new food contamination scandal after increased levels of mercury were found in infant formula made by the country’s best producer.

A few days ago, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) confirmed that mercury had been detected in several batches of the Inner Mongolia-based company’s products.

Chinese food safety officials voiced their concern and ordered the recall of infant formula after “unusual amounts” of the toxic metal were found in some of the products made by Yili International Group.

The recall of contaminated milk products resembles similarities to the melamine scandal of 2008 when six people died and 300,000 people fell ill due to the contamination.

Thousands of tonnes of products were recalled after it emerged that manufacturers had deliberately tainted their products with melamine.

Unusual mercury levels were identified in two batches of Yili baby formula and two whey powder samples, says a consumer regulator in Inner Mongolia.

Chen Lianfang, a dairy expert at Oriental Agribusiness in Beijing, said: “It’s possible the mercury could be due to imported whey powder. All Chinese processors use imported whey powder; it’s not made here”.

He also mentioned that whey powder can be accounted for about a third of the ingredients used in baby formula.

The Inner Mongolia autonomous region’s local consumer quality regulator has also reported “unusual” mercury being detected in two batches of Yili baby formulas and two samples of Yili whey powder.

The company said it had launched a recall – which applies to ‘QuanYou’ products that were produced between November 2011 and May 2012 – of all affected products.

As dairy experts have said, Reuters said that checks for heavy metals would usually be among the row of tests carried out on both raw materials and the completed product.

According to the experts, the sources of contamination could potentially have come from coal-fired power plants absorbed into feed or breathed by cows, any additives made from fish and contaminated packaging.

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