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Contaminated baby milk in China

15th September 2008

China is recalling tainted baby-milk powder produced by a joint-owned factory with New Zealand after a second infant died after using the formula.

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Police said they had arrested two traders for selling up to three tonnes of the powder, made by the Sanlu group, a day.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration warned that Chinese-made baby milk formula was banned in the United States.

The latest death came in the remote northwestern province of Gansu, where poverty levels are high, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The first death in this most recent milk powder scare was reported at the weekend, also in Gansu.

No further details were given about the deaths. So far, a total of nearly 500 babies have been reported sick after drinking the formula, 102 of whom live in Gansu.

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra holds a 43% stake in the manufacturer, Sanlu.

Production was halted at the joint-venture plant after melamine in the milk powder was found to be causing kidney stones and other complications in babies.

China has a troubled product safety record with a string of food scares last year. Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, was executed in July 2007 for approving untested medicine in exchange for bribes.

Zheng was only the fourth ministerial-level official put to death since economic reforms began in 1979.

Mao Shoulong, public policy and product safety expert at Beijing's Renmin University, said the demand for milk products had been growing in China, which is the world's second-biggest market for baby milk formula, but that China lacked the safety capacity of developed countries.

More problems were likely to emerge until the country's safety regime had caught up with standards in richer nations, he said.

Xinhua reported that two brothers surnamed Geng were arrested in the central Chinese province of Hebei, where Sanlu is based, for "producing and selling toxic and hazardous food".

They were accused of adding melamine to the three tonnes of milk they sold on from farmers every day, beginning late last year. They had added the powder to give an apparent boost to the protein levels in their milk, which was being rejected by Sanlu.

The authorities ordered an official recall only after the New Zealand government intervened, according to Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Clark said: "I think the first inclination was to try and put a towel over it and deal with it without an official recall."

The first reports that babies were falling sick from the powder appeared in Chinese state media on 10 September. Sanlu issued an official recall of products made before 6 August the following day, after trying for several days to recover the powder unofficially from distributors.

Chinese officials said the company began receiving customer complaints in March that babies' urine was discolored and that some had been admitted to hospital.

Taiwan has already moved to ban all imports of Sanlu products.

At least 13 babies died in China's eastern province of Anhui in 2004 after drinking fake milk powder which had no nutritional value. 

 

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