When did milk become a moral crisis?

Over the past several months, I was reporting on the melamine-contamination crisis. Unscrupulous Chinese dairy farmers have been watering down their milk for years. Unscrupulous food manufacturers who buy the milk (for a deal, of course), have then been adding an industrial polymer to the milk to make the protein level look higher. Keep in mind that melamine is normally used as: a fire retardant, a coating on plastic dinnerware, a finish on vinyl floor tiling. None of its intended uses include consumption by humans or animals. The U.S. should be familiar with melamine already. Remeber in 2007 when thousands of beloved American pets died painful deaths after eating melamine-contaminated pet food from China? It was added to the pet food for the same reason it is added to milk–to fake protein levels.

Unfortunately the pain and suffering of 2007 was repeated in late 2008, only this time it was innocent Chinese infants. Trusted Chinese milk manufacturer Sanlu got too greedy and added so much melamine to its infant formula that hundreds of thousands of infants were sickened, at least seven died. There is no way to know the  real number, because the current Chinese government doesn’t deal in truth. Even when it comes to the lives of babies. First the Chinese Communist Party told the world that 55,000 babies were sickened. Then the number jumped to 300,000 or more. The number stopped growing when the United States mysteriously started discovering “trace” amounts of melamine in U.S. food products, including infant formula.

The truth is, this “discovery” of melamine in the U.S. looks an awful lot like a ruse to distract American consumers from the real danger–products from China. Just glance at the FDA’s website, http://www.fda.gov, under the section “melamine”, and you will find a list of products from China that are contaminated.

So much has been written and discussed about this topic. But nothing is as poignant or revealing as the parents in China who were arrested for holding a press conference about it. Melamine can cause kidney stones, renal failure, and kidney crystals. It is especially toxic for babies and youngsters because their internal systems are so small. These parents, whose young ones ingested melamine-contaminated milk and lived to see another day, were concerned. It wasn’t enough for them that their children survived. They want their woefully irresponsible government to tell them what the long-term effects might be. The problem is, nobody really knows. Remember, melamine is not intended for human consumption. The large-scale exposure in China this past year was the first tragedy of its kind.

The parents, brave and defiant in the face of retaliation, held their press conference. They were arrested by their government and after being released mysteriously didn’t want to talk anymore. They should be applauded for stepping forward to at least try to ask the right questions. Why is melamine in our food, and what is it doing to us? Why are we so easily convinced that this is not an international crisis in the making?

When milk becomes an a moral crisis, it’s time to stop and take stock of what we are allowing ourselves to be fed–lies and otherwise.

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