September 25, 2008 / 9:23 AM / 11 years ago

FACTBOX:What is melamine, and why add it to milk?

(For related story see CHINA-MILK/ or [ID:nHKG132511])

Sept 25 (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation and UNICEF said on Thursday China’s contaminated milk powder scandal was “deplorable” as more countries in Asia and Europe banned imports of Chinese milk products.

Here are some questions and answers on China’s widening toxic milk scandal and the people and companies it is affecting:

WHAT IS MELAMINE?

— Melamine is a white powder used in plastic-making. It was first synthesised by a German scientist in the 1830s.

WHAT IS IT USED FOR?

— Its most common form, melamine resin, a mix of melamine and formaldehyde, is used in the manufacture of formica, floor tiles, whiteboards and kitchenware.

WHY ADD MELAMINE TO MILK POWDER?

— Melamine is rich in nitrogen, and relatively cheap. Adding it to sub-standard or watered-down milk makes the milk’s protein level appear higher. Standard quality tests estimate protein levels by measuring nitrogen content.

IS THIS WHY IT WAS ADDED TO PET FOOD?

— Yes. Melamine was linked to the deaths of cats and dogs in the United States last year after it was added to wheat gluten and other pet food ingredients exported from China, in another attempt to boost the products’ apparent protein content.

WHO HAS BEEN AFFECTED BY THE TOXIC MILK?

— So far four infants have died in China, and about 13,000 more have been hospitalised after drinking the contaminated milk.

— Four Hong Kong children have also become sick after consuming toxic Chinese milk powder.

— More than 80 percent of the sick are under two years old. Young babies that depend solely on milk are most vulnerable.

WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM HEALTH EFFECTS?

— Little scientific information exists about the compound’s effects on humans. However, even if victims who have developed have kidney stones due to tainted milk consumption have these removed, the melamine could crystallise in small kidney tubes and block connecting ducts, resulting in kidney damage or even renal failure, health experts fear.

WHICH COUNTRIES ARE AFFECTED?

— More than 20 mostly Asian and African countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, Britain, Brunei, Burundi, Canada, China, France, Gabon, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Tanzania, Togo, Vietnam, and Yemen — have all either pulled products off shelves, banned China dairy imports, or stepped up their tests.

— See FACTBOX [ID:nT188649] for more details.

WHICH CHINESE COMPANIES ARE IMPLICATED?

— 22 Chinese companies have been listed as producing the tainted milk powder. See FACTBOX [ID:nPEK20969] for a list.

WHICH JOINT VENTURES ARE INVOLVED?

— New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, the business partner of Sanlu Group, China’s top seller of infant milk powder and the first to go public with melamine contamination, has cut the value of its 43 percent stake in Sanlu to about $42 million. It said the writedown reflected the damage done to Sanlu by the scandal.

— Danish-Swedish dairy cooperative Arla’s Chinese joint venture Mengniu Arla’s baby formula is also implicated. Source: Reuters (Writing by Gillian Murdoch, Beijing Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Valerie Lee) ((gill.murdoch.reuters.com@reuters.net; +8610 6627 1289))

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