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China recalls toxic baby food

China has launched a nationwide probe into all domestic baby milk powder products, after samples of a major brand were found laced with a dangerous industrial chemical, reports Reshma Patil.

world Updated: Sep 13, 2008 01:19 IST
Reshma Patil

China has launched a nationwide probe into all domestic baby milk powder products, after samples of a major brand were found laced with a dangerous industrial chemical.

Overnight, over 8000 tonnes of the Sanlu Group’s baby milk powder has been recalled from Chinese stores. The US Food and Drug Administration has swiftly warned Chinese-Americans in the US to avoid Chinese baby milk powder in case it is illegally sold in ethnic stores.

Last year, the same contaminant — melamine — was blamed for the deaths and sickness of innumerable pet dogs and cats in the US, after investigations found that some pet food contained banned melamine laced-ingredients imported from China.

In the latest scare, one infant who consumed the milk powder has died, and 59 others suffered kidney stones. “Those responsible will face serious punishment,’’ Mao Qunan, a health ministry spokesperson told official media.

The first case of a baby diagnosed with kidney stones was reported on June 28 in northwest Gansu province. Officials linked the sickness to toxic food only this week, and expect the number of sick babies to rise.

The Sanlu Group had first maintained that its product was faked, but an internal probe found samples contaminated with melamine. The chemical is used in plastics, kitchenware and fertilisers. Chronic consumption can trigger kidney stones or kidney failure.

Food contamination is a chronic problem in China, China Daily reported that a nationwide inspection led to the seizure of $26 million worth of contaminated foods and the closure of 180 factories. Officials found industrial raw materials — dyes, mineral oils, paraffin and formaldehyde — used in flour, candy, pickles, biscuits, beancurd and seafood.

China is the world’s second-biggest market for baby milk powder. The Sanlu Group is partly owned by the New Zealand-based export major Fonterra Co-operative Group. In a statement, Fonterra said Sanlu is taking steps to ensure product safety.