ANNECY, France: Europe's top food safety agency will issue a scientific opinion this week on whether processed items containing milk products coming from China pose a risk to human health, the agency's chief said on Monday.
Speaking on the margins of an informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers in France, the executive director of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said the opinion was likely to be issued on Wednesday or Thursday.
EFSA's opinion had been requested by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm responsible for monitoring food safety and implementation of EU food standards across the bloc's 27 member countries, Catherine Geslain-Laneelle said.
"The Commission would like to know, in case you find melamine in this type of product, would there be a risk for human health," she told Reuters.
"There are so many ingredients that are imported and then used in complex products."
China's top quality regulator has resigned over the scandal, which has found milk powder contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, used in making plastics.
Four deaths have been blamed on the toxic milk powder, which causes kidney stones and agonising complications, and a string of Asian countries have banned or recalled Chinese milk products. Thousands of Chinese infants are also sick in hospital after drinking tainted milk formula.
While the European Union does not import milk or milk products from China, Commission experts are keen to make absolutely sure that nothing enters EU markets as an ingredient or as part of a processed product that might pose a health risk.
"There's no question of having milk products from China in the European Union ... but in case they (Chinese) have used milk for the production of biscuits, for example," EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou told reporters.
"My suspicion is that they use melamine to give the impression of high protein in the milk. It's not a coincidence that people are being criminally prosecuted in China," she said.
Melamine is rich in nitrogen, and relatively cheap. Adding it to milk makes watered-down milk's protein level appear higher. Standard quality tests estimate protein levels by measuring nitrogen content.
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