Thursday, June 21, 2007

MANILA (AP) — The Philippine government has ordered the recall of millions of cans of infant milk products made by U.S.-based company Wyeth because they may have been contaminated at a warehouse during a storm, officials said yesterday.

Health Undersecretary Alexander Padilla said the Bureau of Food and Drugs served the recall order to Wyeth on Tuesday after verifying confidential information that the infant formula, manufactured in the Philippines last year, was exposed to the elements during a powerful typhoon that hit the country but the formula was not immediately recalled by the company.

The recall order came the same day that the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether to allow health officials to impose stringent measures against what they say are aggressive advertising by foreign milk companies that has led many women to think infant formula is better than mother’s milk.

Joshua Ramos, deputy director of the Bureau of Food and Drugs, said up to 4.3 million units of the infant formulas Bona, Promil, Promil Kid and Progress Gold may have been contaminated last year in warehouses after exposure to the elements. A unit is defined as being a can or a carton.

Wyeth had reported to the bureau that 2.5 million units were affected.

The milk in question was manufactured between May and July 2006, “but we are referring only to specific lots, not everything should be recalled,” Mr. Ramos said.

He said Wyeth has selectively withdrawn contaminated milk units and destroyed them but has yet to reply to the department’s questions on their count of affected units and whether they have ensured that milk remaining in the market is safe.

Mr. Ramos said Wyeth only reported the contamination to the bureau after word of it spread on the Internet. “It was only an afterthought when they declared it to us,” Mr. Ramos said.

Irene Serrano, a spokeswoman for Wyeth in the Philippines, told the Associated Press that the company would issue a statement after lawyers finish studying the recall order.

Mr. Padilla also took Madison, N.J.-based Wyeth to task for purportedly concealing the contamination until after the bureau found out about it on its own.

“They should have admitted to it, and they should have recalled all their products publicly and made a report,” he added.

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