Japan Loses Confidence In Chinese Dairy Products

Chinese dairy imports have been banned in at least a dozen countries in response to the contaminated milk scandal. A top Japanese food company has recalled five food products sourced from a Chinese dairy company, including snacks served in hospital and school lunches. However, most of the products had already been consumed.

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In China, milk tainted with an industrial chemical called melamine has sickened over 50,000 children, and concern about milk products tainted with melamine has spread well beyond China. Here in the U.S., the FDA is stepping up its checks on imports from China. It has not found any contamination, but there's concern about everything from ice cream to cookies. At least a dozen countries worldwide have now banned Chinese dairy-based foods. In Japan, the government has asked some 90,000 companies to make sure their products are safe. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Tokyo.

ANTHONY KUHN: China's top government quality inspector Zhang Yuxiang just returned from an inspection in the provinces and declared that the problem of Chinese dairy products contaminated with the chemical melamine was under control, more or less. But at a supermarket on Tokyo's south side, shoppers were inclined to believe less rather than more.

Mr. KAINEHIDO DAIBA(ph): (Japanese spoken)

KUHN: We put our complete trust in this these food companies in supermarkets when we buy their products, said social worker Kainehido Daiba. They're defrauding us by allowing this kind of problem to occur. Yesterday, top Japanese food company Marudai said it had recalled five food products sourced from a Chinese company, including snacks served in hospital and school lunches. But most of their products had already been consumed, Marudai said. Icko Wakuzono(ph) was a housewife and mother of two. She says she's frustrated at how hard it is to know exactly where her food comes from.

Ms. ICKO WAKUZONO: (Through Translator) I check the labels, and most of them say made in China. It's hard to find anything these days that's not made in China. Sometimes I buy bean sprouts labeled grown in Japan, but the seeds come from China.

KUHN: Governments from Singapore and Thailand in Asia to Tanzania and Burundi in Africa have banned the import and sale of Chinese dairy products. But according to Peter Cordingley, an Asian regional spokesman for the World Health Organization, a complete ban is uncalled for.

Mr. PETER CORDINGLEY (Asian Regional Spokesman, World Health Organization): We are not advising that they stop the distribution of milk powder, simply because milk powder is just too important. There are millions of children who rely upon that for their daily nutrition.

KUHN: The WHO does advise consumers, he said, to watch out for the Sanlu brand of milk powder, which was the first to be discovered to contain melamine. Cordingley says that at least China's central government has been cooperative.

Mr. CORDINGLEY: We have a truly excellent relationship with the ministry of health. A lot of lessons have been learned from past problems. But the further you get away from Beijing, down into the local level, then the message has not always got through to those people.

KUHN: Japanese are still fuming over a homegrown food scandal. Japan's agriculture minister recently resigned after a major food company admitted selling tainted rice that was intended for use in making industrial glue. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tokyo.

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