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In toxic-milk scandal, Hong Kong orders product recall

Latest update : 2008-09-23

After the presence of melamine in locally manufactured milk products in China caused four deaths and thousands of reported illnesses, Hong Kong ordered the recall of a Chinese company's products.

BEIJING, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Hong Kong has ordered the recall of a Chinese company's products after milk, ice cream and yoghurt were found to be contaminated with melamine, the compound responsible for killing four children in a China health scandal.
 
Tainted milk powder produced in China has made thousands ill, and triggered sackings and detentions and rocked public trust already battered by a litany of food safety scares involving tainted eggs, pork and seafood in recent years.
 
Now the scandal has spread to milk, ice-cream and yoghurt ice-bars. Hong Kong ordered the recall of a Chinese company's products on Thursday after tests found that eight of 30 of its products, including milk drinks, were tainted with melamine.
 
The company, Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Co Ltd was a Beijing Olympic Games sponsor and is one of 22 Chinese firms implicated in the scandal.
 
A regional Chinese health authority said on Thursday a fourth child had died at a hospital in remote northwestern Xinjiang. The report on the authority's website (www.xjwst.gov.cn) gave no further details.
 
Milk tainted with melamine, a compound banned in food, has killed three other babies, two in China's northwestern Gansu province and one in eastern Zhejiang.
 
The health scare erupted after Sanlu Group last week revealed it had produced and sold melamine-laced milk, and a subsequent probe found a fifth of 109 Chinese dairy producers were selling products adulterated with the substance.
 
At the latest count, 6,244 children have become ill with kidney stones after drinking powdered milk laced with melamine, with three deaths and 158 suffering "acute kidney failure".
 
"It's just a terrible situation, it's really scary," said a 34-year-old father surnamed Zhou, cradling one of his eight-month twins outside a Beijing children's hospital.
 
"You expect small brands to have quality issues, but these are big brands, name brands. The authorities need to improve their oversight," said Zhou, queuing to have his children examined.
 
Dozens of lawyers and rights campaigners have mobilised to support families stricken by the toxic powder. One said they had already received nearly a thousand phone inquiries, underscoring the political volatility of China's latest food safety scandal.
 
SACKINGS
 
Local media have largely kept quiet about claims that Sanlu and officials in Shijiazhuang, where the company is based, concealed the poisonings from the public and senior authorities during the Beijing Olympics in August.
 
But an outraged commentary on the official Xinhua agency blamed the group for covering up substandard milk.
 
"The hard lesson we should learn from this tragedy: never overestimate the credibility of any company," the report warned.
 
Sanlu is 43 percent owned by New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said on Monday that Chinese officials acted last week only after her government pressed Beijing.
 
A vice governor of Hebei, Yang Chongyong, said on Wednesday that Sanlu knew "long ago" that melamine was being used in its milk from as early as 2005, and that 41 of 372 milk stations supplying the company had been found to have problems.
 
The firm is still struggling to trace 35 tonnes of contaminated powder, Xinhua quoted newly elected Chairman Zhang Zhenling saying on Thursday.
 
"We will specially dispatch staff to the remote rural and mountainous areas to retrieve the milk powder," he said. Sanlu's milk was popular among poorer Chinese parents because it was seen as reliable but relatively cheap.
 
Two Chinese dairy firms had also exported baby milk powder to Yemen, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Gabon and Burundi.
 
"Though there has been no bad reaction, the quality watchdog has demanded that these companies take action to recall the products," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.
 
Melamine is rich in nitrogen, used to measure protein, and so can be used to disguise diluted milk. It can cause kidney stones and other organ problems.
 
Hebei police seized 222 kg of melamine and arrested 12 people on Thursday, bringing the total detained in the scandal to 18. Six were melamine dealers and the others 12 dealers suspected of selling contaminated milk.
 
Another 10 have been held including sacked Sanlu chairwoman, Tian Wenhua, and authorities are hunting for another milk dealer.

Date created : 2008-09-18

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