China’s Ministry of Health has announced that Synutra International infant formula is not the cause of the extremely high hormone levels found in three girls, ranging in age from 15 months to four years, who had been fed the formula.
The LA Times reports, “After testing 73 samples of formula from Synutra and other international and domestic brands, the ministry concluded that the milk powder displayed normal levels of the hormones that might have caused the early development.”
The hormones in question – estradiol and prolactin – “stimulate the production of breast milk,” and likely seeped into the formula because of milk used from cows who had been treated with them. The babies allegedly affected by the formula had grown breasts and one even experienced vaginal discharge, according to her outraged father, 28-year-old Wang Gang, who refuses to believe the ministry’s assessment is accurate.
“I’ve heard the statement from the ministry, and it makes me feel helpless,” he said. Gang told reporters that the doctor who evaluated his 1-year-old daughter “was so surprised at the level of hormones present that he asked if it was possible the child had accidentally swallowed birth control pills.”
According to the Ministry of Health, the girls in question experienced “minimal puberty.” The LA Times describes minimal puberty as “the early onset of puberty that can happen in girls before the age of 2 and boys of up to 6 months old,” but what about the 4-year-old in this case? Once puberty has set in for these babies, do the symptoms eventually disappear? And with or without intervention? There are so many questions left unanswered in this case. I hope the U.S. media will continue to press for an explanation, and seek out other families who may have been affected by the formula but were afraid to speak out. How can anyone trust Synutra after they poisoned 300,000 people?
At least one person, Ben Embarek, a food safety expert with the World Health Organization, isn’t comfortable with the ministry’s willingness to brush this worrisome issue aside. He says, “Health experts need to investigate whether even low levels of hormones in the formula could affect infants who generally rely on it as their main source of food,” and that the “results of the analysis of the babies in Hubei may have been affected by the fact that the parents stopped using the formula days or weeks before the tests.”
I’ll keep you posted on any updates to this story.