A few days ago, I spotted this post: Tainted Milk in China; No Threat in US. However, that headline is not entirely accurate. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a Health Information Advisory that “there is no known threat of contamination of infant formula manufactured by companies that have met the requirements to sell such products in the United States.”
- No Known Threat. First, “no known threat” is not the same as “no threat.” We are talking about milk production here and not terrorism. Some farmer is not going to release a video threatening to poison the milk supply with melamine. So, the government and the public, more often than not, will not become aware of specific threats to the food supply until someone has already been seriously injured or killed.
- Infant Formula. Secondly, the Health Information Advisory was limited to the contamination of infant formula and not to other milk or milk-based food products. So, while infant formula may be “safe,” that doesn’t mean that melamine contamination posed no threat in the United States. In fact, right after I read that, my immediate thought was to wait and see. I did not believe that melamine contamination was an isolated incident. However, I wasn’t expecting the situation to unravel that quickly. Today, the FDA announced the recall of my beloved White Rabbit creamy candy (小白兔奶糖) because of melamine contamination. Fortunately, I had not indulged in those in quite a few years. The FDA also announced the recall of Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea, also because of melamine contamination.
- Met the Requirements. Finally, the FDA didn’t say that all infant formula was not knowingly unsafe. (Yes, that is a double negative, but not knowingly unsafe is not the same as safe.) Instead, the FDA limited its declaration to infant formula manufactured by companies that have met the requirements to sell such products in the United States. So, infant milk formula produced by companies that have followed applicable laws and regulations is not knowingly unsafe. But, we really have no idea which companies are following the “requirements to sell such products in the United States” now, do we? Is the Health Information Advisory less reassuring than when you first read it?
This melamine contamination issue is very serious because there is no meaningful way to distinguish between safe and unsafe food products. Take for example the Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea recall. King Car Food Industrial Co. Ltd. produces Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea. King Car is a Taiwanese company that used a non-dairy creamer manufactured by Shandong Duqing Inc., a Chinese company. Let the implications of that sink in a bit. First, the melamine contamination scandal implicates products made by companies outside of China. Secondly, the source of contamination was a non-dairy creamer. So, either the “non-dairy” wasn’t really non-dairy, or products other than milk are also contaminated. Yikes. So, even if you wanted to boycott food products manufactured in China, you will not necessarily be safer because companies located outside of China may be using China-sourced ingredients.