Tue 30 Sep 2008
Filed under: Health / AIDS,News
For the first time Burma’s state-run newspaper has issued a warning to avoid the use of potentially tainted milk as it can cause severe health damage, particularly to children.
A report in the Burmese language newspaper Myanmar Ahlin, an official government mouth-piece, on Tuesday said with Chinese milk and milk products found to contain the chemical melamine, people should avoid using uncertified milk and milk products.
The report came weeks after the Chinese government announced finding the chemical melamine in milk products produced by several Chinese dairy firms. China had also announced that two of the companies identified as having marketed tainted milk had been exporting their milk and milk products to at least five countries, including Burma.
The warning in the government-newspaper, however, did not identify any particular brand of milk powder that people should avoid, instead generally articulating that tainted milk could cause kidney complication, even resulting in the development of kidney stones.
Yet critics have said that they believe Chinese milk powder has made its way to markets in Burma and believe many Burmese children, not knowing any better, are consuming the potentially hazardous products.
A shopkeeper in Burma’s second largest city, Mandalay, said they are still selling milk imported from China and have so far received no notice or announcement by the authorities to stop such sales.
“We are continuing to sell Chinese milk powder here, and so far there is no notice from the authorities to stop sales,” she said, adding that they are continuing to receive Chinese goods.
Mandalay is the largest commercial hub in upper Burma and receives almost all border imports from China, be they of the legal or illegal variety.
An Associated Press report on Monday, citing a local Rangoon newspaper, said the Burmese Ministry of Commerce has barred entry of all dairy products from China since last Tuesday.
However an official at the Ministry of Commerce on Friday told Mizzima, “We have not ordered any ban but are conducting stricter vigilance on all goods, and particularly on milk and milk products.”
Officials at the ministry on Tuesday were not immediately available to comment.
A businessman in Laiza, a Sino-Burmese border town and one of the major trading points from which Chinese goods enter Burma, said so far there are no orders to ban milk products from China.
“Though we heard there would be a ban on milk powders from China, the goods are still being imported and there is no strict order that bans the import [of milk products],” he said.
Chinese milk powders are still being imported in large quantity and the flow of Chinese goods is normal, he went on to elaborate.
“I don’t think the government can stop the flow of Chinese milk powder this way even if it wanted. If the government really wanted to prevent [the import of Chinese milk powder], then they must strictly ban the import of the commodity and announce it to the public in order to make them understand,” he said.
He added that most people on the border are not even aware of the danger that tainted milk poses, and children are still seen taking Chinese milk powder.
“Only a few people who listen to the radio are aware of the situation. But for most people, since Chinese milk is cheap, they are continuing to buy and consume,” he added
Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst based in Ruili on the Sino-Burmese border, another trading point, said there has been no order to ban Chinese milk and milk products.
“Just about two days ago I saw at least 15 lorries loaded with Chinese goods, including milk powder, heading toward Mandalay,” Aung Kyaw Zaw said.
He added that with many Chinese dairy companies unable to export their products to other countries, companies are likely to target Burma as a potential market, as the Burmese authorities have so far not enforced a strict ban.
“But even if the government does officially ban [Chinese milk], it would still be impossible to stop the illegal import,” he continued.
Meanwhile, the Burmese Food and Drug Administration, under the Ministry of Health, said it is testing milk products and those products found safe will be given a ‘melamine-free’ stamp, according to the Associated Press report.
But shop owners in Mandalay’s Zegyo market, the largest Chinese goods selling market in the city, said so far there are no authorities conducting tests on Chinese milk and milk products that are for sale.
“We are still selling Chinese milk powders, and we have not received any order to stop,” the shop owner explained.
Meanwhile, the milk scandal in China has killed at least 4 children and caused at least 54,000 children to fall ill. But Aung Kyaw Zaw, citing Chinese journalists and friends, said at least 60 children have died from consuming tainted milk powder.
The Chinese government, for its part, closed down 22 dairy companies whose products were found to contain the chemical melamine.