Baby cereal hit by China's milk scandal

The list of products caught in China's tainted milk scandal has grown to include baby cereal in Hong Kong and snack foods in Japan.

And in Taiwan, three children and a mother have be diagnosed kidney stones in the island's first cases possibly linked to the crisis.

The Japanese government also said it had suspended imports of milk and milk products from China, where some 54,000 children have developed kidney stones or other illnesses after drinking baby formula contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine.

Four deaths have been blamed on the tainted milk.

The latest problematic foods were Heinz baby cereal and Silang House steamed potato wasabi crackers. The Hong Kong government said in a statement it found traces of melamine in the products, which were both made in mainland China.

Hong Kong urged the manufacturers to stop selling the products in the Chinese territory. US-based Heinz ordered a recall of the baby cereal as a precautionary measure following the government's announcement, it said in a statement on its Web site.

Hundreds of international food companies have set up operations in China in recent years, exposing them to the country's notorious product safety problems.

Melamine-tainted products have turned up in an increasing number of Chinese-made exports abroad - from candies to yogurt to rice balls.

In Japan, the Marudai Food Co. pulled its cream buns, meat buns and creamed corn crepes from supermarkets a week ago and tests have found traces of contamination in several products, Japanese Health and Welfare Ministry official Mina Kojima.

So far, there were no reports of health problems stemming from the contamination, she said. Marudai has sold more than 300,000 of the products, most of which are believed to have been consumed.

News of that contamination came after the Chinese territory of Macau said it detected melamine at 24 times the safety limit in products from another Japan-based company, Koala's March cookies made by Lotte China Foods Co. The company is a member of a Tokyo-based conglomerate, Lotte Group.

An official at Lotte (China) Investment Co. Ltd. in Shanghai said previous inspections had not shown any problems.

"But now that it tested positive in Macau, we find it necessary to do the inspections all over again," said Guo Hongming, a legal assistant in Lotte Shanghai's corporate planning department.

Some Hong Kong supermarkets pulled the chocolate-filled cookies off shelves Friday after the announcement by Macau authorities late Thursday. Cookie packages list whole milk powder as an ingredient.

Only some types of milk powder and milk have been recalled in mainland China so far, but the maker of one of China's most popular candies said it had halted sales because of suspected melamine contamination.

White Rabbit candies have already been pulled from shelves around Asia and in Britain.

Ge Junjie, a vice president of Bright Foods (Group) Co, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency that the company was waiting for test results from the Shanghai Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.

"We decided to halt all sales of White Rabbit candy, although the test results have not yet come out," Ge said. Bright Foods' subsidiary Guangshengyuan produces White Rabbit.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese authorities reported that three children who consumed Chinese milk formula had developed kidney stones, and doctors were checking whether their illnesses were linked to tainted products.

The two 3-year-old girls and a 1-year-old boy traveled frequently between Taiwan and China with their parents, said Liu Yi-lien, health chief of the Ilan county government in eastern Taiwan. One of the girls' mothers also has kidney stones, he said.

"They have all consumed Chinese milk, but more tests are needed to establish the link to their kidney stones," Liu said.

The cases are the first reports of illnesses on the island that could be related to tainted Chinese milk products. Six children have also become ill from melamine-tainted products in the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

Still, the World Health Organisation said it did not expect the number of victims to grow dramatically.

WHO China representative Hans Troedsson said public awareness of the issue meant many young children were getting health checks and avoiding tainted products.

"I think we will see some more cases, but not the high number like so far," he said.

"I think the recall and more thorough investigation and testing are now starting to eliminate some of these contaminated products from coming out to the public."

The European Union banned imports of baby food containing Chinese milk. The move by the 27-nation EU adds to the growing list of countries that have banned or recalled Chinese dairy products because of the contamination.

Health experts say ingesting a small amount of melamine poses no danger, but in larger doses, the chemical - used to make plastics and fertilizer - can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure. Infants are particularly vulnerable.

Chinese suppliers trying to cut costs are believed to have diluted their milk while adding melamine because its nitrogen content can fool tests aimed at verifying protein levels.

 

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