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China’s new counterfeit scare makes babies sick

After unsafe toys, the latest scandal from China’s counterfeit market is a suspected case of fake milk powder.

world Updated: Sep 11, 2008 23:57 IST
Reshma Patil

After unsafe toys, the latest scandal from China’s counterfeit market is a suspected case of fake milk powder. An ‘unknown number’ of babies across a swathe of seven provinces in the north, east and central parts of China are suddenly suffering kidney stones. One baby has died.

“The number of sick babies in China continues to grow,’’ said state-run media Xinhua on Thursday.

China is drafting stricter food safety laws this year but it continues to battle high profile cases of contaminated food and drugs, including a probe into allegedly insecticide-laced frozen dumplings exported to Japan. Last year, a former head of China’s State Food and Drug administration was executed for kickbacks in approving substandard medicines.

Officials are still checking whether all the sick babies drank a cheaper and suspected counterfeit milk powder labelled as the Sanlu brand, and whether it caused the kidney stones. “It is rare for babies to get kidney stones, let alone so many babies at the same time,’’ urologist Dr Zhang Wei in Lanzhou in northwest Gansu told Xinhua.

On Wednesday, Xinhua reported that a hospital in China’s Gansu had received 14 cases of babies with kidney stones and there were a total 59 such cases this year. Sanlu Group, a dairy products company, has 1,000 of its own staff across China currently investigating whether their product was mislabeled or subject to counterfeiting.

In 2004, 13 infants in eastern China died and almost 170 were hospitalised for malnutrition-related causes after drinking fake milk powder.