Saturday, 20 September 2008

Chemical found in liquid milk in China (IHT)

BEIJING: China's latest tainted product crisis widened Friday after tests found the chemical melamine in liquid milk produced by three of the country's leading dairy companies, the country's quality monitor said.
The crisis roiling the nation's dairy industry was thought to have been initially confined to tainted milk powder and was blamed for four infant deaths, and illnesses in more than 6,200 others.
But about 10 percent of liquid milk samples taken from the Mengniu Dairy Group and Yili Industrial Group - China's two largest dairy producers - contained melamine, according to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. Milk from the Shanghai-based Bright Dairy also showed contamination.
Melamine is a toxic industrial chemical that can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure.
The agency would "severely punish those who are responsible," according to a notice posted on the agency's Web site. It said all the batches that tested positive were being recalled.
Reactions were immediate, with Hong Kong's two biggest grocery chains, PARKnSHOP and Wellcome, pulling all liquid milk by Mengniu from the shelves. A day earlier, Hong Kong had recalled milk, yogurt, ice cream and other products made by the Yili Industrial Group.
Starbucks said its 300 cafés in mainland China had pulled milk supplied by Mengniu. Starbucks said that no employees or customers had fallen ill from the milk.
Earlier this week, Mengniu's chief executive officer, Niu Gensheng, vowed to create a clean dairy product market, saying "if this thing cannot be properly dealt with, I'll resign," according to the financial magazine Caijing.
The scandal began with complaints over milk powder by the Sanlu Group, one of China's best-known and most respected brands; but it quickly became a much larger problem as government tests found that one-fifth of the companies producing baby milk powder had melamine in their products.
Though most of the dairy products involved are only sold domestically, two of the companies exported their products to five countries in Asia and Africa.
On Friday, regulators for consumer product safety in the United States, the European Union and China met to announce a joint initiative that would allow for direct cooperation between the three parties on consumer safety issues.
"The situation underscores the need for these kinds of conversations," said Nancy Nord, acting chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Thousands of parents brought their children to hospitals, worried about their safety.
About 1,300 babies, mostly newborns, remain hospitalized, with 158 suffering from acute kidney failure.
Like many of the babies at the Peace Hospital in Shijiazhuang, Yao Haoge, 11 months old, had an IV drip hooked into a vein in her head. Diagnosed with two large kidney stones, she had been drinking formula by Sanlu since birth.
"We don't make much money, but we wanted to buy good milk powder," said her father, Yao Weiguan, a day-laborer from a small town an hour's train ride from Shijiazhuang.
"We thought it was good, and now it's given us problems."
Melamine has no nutritional value but is high in nitrogen, making products with it appear higher in protein. Suppliers trying to cut costs are believed to have added it to watered-down milk to cover up the resulting protein deficiency.
Questions continued to swirl about the handling of the scandal by the milk producer Sanlu and government officials.
The company reportedly received complaints about its formula as early as March and tests revealed the contamination by early August, just before the Olympics. Sanlu went public with a recall on Sept. 11 after its New Zealand stakeholder told the New Zealand government, which then informed the Chinese government.

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