Xue Jianzhong never posted a sign on his ground-floor shop, but somehow everyone knew what he was selling. Customers from all over this dairy farming region in the northeastern province of Hebei flocked to Xue’s dusty street to buy special concoctions that he said would make milk more nutritious — and more marketable.
Advertised as a “protein powder,” the substance was sold in 44-pound bags and was tasteless, odorless and white, like talc. It wasn’t cheap, about $1 a pound, but it could be mixed into inferior milk or even with specially treated water and the result would be a milklike liquid that would pass government quality tests.
It wasn’t until September, when Xue was arrested in connection with the investigation into the poisoning of tens of thousands of babies across China, that it became clear his secret ingredient was a toxic industrial chemical called melamine.
Saturday, November 8, 2008; Page A01
Melamine can mimic protein in nutrition tests for milk and in products such as wheat gluten and chicken feed. But when ingested in large amounts, it can cause kidney stones or death in children and animals.
A child suffering from kidney stones receives medical treatment at a hospital in Hefei, Anhui province in this September 19, 2008 file photo. The discovery of melamine in eggs as well as in baby formula, milk products, biscuits, chocolates and other foodstuffs containing milk derivatives confirms what experts have long suspected; that the chemical is deeply embedded in the human food chain. China is a major transgressor as carcinogenic chemicals are regularly used as food colouring agents or as preservatives, experts say. Reuters