China is expanding an investigation into reports of hormone-tainted milk powder by testing a range of infant milk powders and breast milk, state media said on Saturday, the latest food scare to hit the country.
The Ministry of Health launched the probe following complaints that tainted milk powder had caused baby girls to show signs of premature sexual development.
The Ministry said it would test baby-formula maker Synutra International as well as other brands to compare the level of estrogen in dairy products, the People's Daily reported on its website. (www.people.com.cn).
"In order to guarantee that the milk powder tests are safe and reliable, this time the Ministry of Health has chosen Beijing and Shanghai to test the products," Liang Li, a medical expert, who is also a member of the investigation panel of the Ministry, was quoted as saying.
Shares of Synutra, a Chinese firm, plunged as much as 35 percent earlier this week, but stabilised after the company denied the reports and said it was in the process of taking legal action to protect its brand.
Even if the allegations prove to be unfounded, the concerns about exposure to tainted milk products has underscored the persistence of food safety problems that have alarmed consumers, undermined China's global image and sparked criminal cases.
Liang Li, also Director of Endocrinology at Zhejiang University, said the expansion of the tests to include different brands of milk powder and other indicators of estrogen will help ensure the reliability of the results.
Endocrinology experts were also carrying out tests in three previously reported cases in Wuhan, a populous city in central China, the People's Daily said. The results are expected within one or two days.
Two years ago, China was plagued with a melamine scandal when at least six children died and nearly 300,000 became ill from drinking powdered milk laced with melamine, an industrial compound added to fool inspectors by giving misleadingly high results in protein tests.
More recently, in July, Chinese authorities seized 64 tonnes of milk powder and products laced with the same deadly toxic additive that sparked an uproar in 2008.