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Tainted milk renews safety concerns

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KAI RYSSDAL: Melamine has now been found in food outside China. That’s the industrial chemical that was added to Chinese milk and baby formula. It’s been linked to four deaths and made tens of thousands of Chinese babies sick. Inspectors in New Zealand found it in imported Chinese candy. Vietnam has temporarily banned imports of Chinese milk products. Tomorrow the European Union’s going to start testing all Chinese imports that are more than 50 percent milk powder.

Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman looked into whether this is another Chinese product safety scare about to go global.

MITCHELL HARTMAN: So, is there any danger of melamine from Chinese milk turning up in cocoa mix or cookies on U.S. grocery shelves? Well, never say never, but experts say the chances are pretty low — at least in food products made in the U.S., or actually, anyplace other than China. Almost no milk or milk byproducts are exported from China to the U.S.

James Morehouse of management consulting firm AT Karney has studied food safety in China.

JAMES MOREHOUSE: If you’ve got a food product as an ingredient, and it’s going to, for instance, Nestle, they’re going to test it very thoroughly before they use it. So I would reassure people not to worry about milk.

But China does export a lot of other food to the U.S.: apples and chicken and juice. Morehouse says it’s more likely one of those products will eventually turn up in a U.S. grocery store tainted with pesticide or mercury or growth hormone.

Caroline Smith DeWaal is director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The group visited a Chinese grocery in suburban Washington looking for Chinese imports made with milk.

Caroline Smith DeWaal: We found bottled milk drinks, bottled yogurt drinks. In size it’s clearly intended for children. We found a variety of cookies and candies.

DeWaal stresses that the group hasn’t tested any of these for melamine. The FDA says it has found no melamine contamination in the U.S. thus far, and has warned against buying Chinese-made baby formula at Asian grocery stores.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

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