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Second Chinese baby dies in tainted-milk scandal

Latest update : 2008-09-23

Chinese state media reported the death of a second baby due to a spiralling contaminated milk-powder scandal that has sickened nearly 500 babies. The product was recalled after melamine was found in the powder.

China on Monday reported one more infant death from tainted milk powder, bringing to two the number of babies killed in an expanding scandal that drew an official product recall only after New Zealand blew the whistle.

The latest death blamed on infant milk powder made by the Sanlu Group occurred in Gansu province, a poor region in the northwest that was also home to the only other fatality blamed on chemical-laced milk, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

China has recorded nearly 500 babies falling ill from the tainted milk powder, including 102 in Gansu.

Sanlu, a milk powder producer 43 percent owned by New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, was ordered to halt production last week after investigators found the chemical melamine in its powder was causing kidney stones in infants.

Farmers or dealers supplying milk to Sanlu may have diluted it with water and then added melamine, used in plastics, fertilisers and cleaning products, to make the milk's protein level appear higher than it actually was.

Local Chinese officials only acted after the New Zealand government contacted the central government in Beijing, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said on Monday.

"They [Fonterra] have been trying for weeks to get official recall and the local authorities in China would not do it," Clark told TVNZ. "I think the first inclination was to try and put a towel over it and deal with it without an official recall."

Chinese media first reported on Sept. 10 that babies had fallen ill after drinking the formula, and Sanlu on Sept. 11 issued a recall of its product made before Aug 6.

But Sanlu had begun receiving customer complaints in March that babies' urine was discoloured and that some had been admitted to hospital, officials have said.

Fonterra said on Sunday it had been told in August that its Chinese partner was selling contaminated milk, and the New Zealand company said it was seeking a meeting with the Chinese government to discuss the issue.

Many of the stricken babies are from poor or remote areas -- not the first time poorer Chinese families have been struck by toxic infant milk power.

In 2004, at least 13 babies in the eastern province of Anhui died after drinking fake milk powder that investigators found had no nutritional value.

Melamine was linked to deaths and illness of thousands of cats and dogs in the United States last year after it was added to pet food components exported from China.

Normally inert, it can trigger the formation of kidney stones in the presence of cyanuric acid.

Date created : 2008-09-15

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