Thursday, October 2, 2008

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Tests in Taiwan have found small amounts of the industrial chemical melamine in milk powders produced in China by the European food giant Nestle, and those products are being withdrawn, Taiwan’s health minister said Thursday.

The announcement came a day after a dairy at the heart of the tainted milk scandal in China was targeted in a lawsuit by the parents of a toddler who developed kidney stones after drinking infant formula with melamine, an attorney said.

Taiwan Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan said milk powders that Nestle produced in Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China were found to contain between 0.3 and 0.85 parts per million of melamine.

“Such minor doses of melamine will not affect people’s health … but we will take them off shelves according to our recommended procedures,” he said.

Liang Chia-jui, a Nestle spokesman in Taipei, said the company will agree to the recall. Nestle has taken out half-page newspaper advertisements to assure Taiwanese consumers of the safety of its milk products over the past two weeks.

Yeh said Taiwan will confer with food safety experts from the United States, Japan, Europe and the World Health Organization to decide on whether to permit milk products containing traces of the chemical.

“We need to have a rational discussion on the matter because it also affects other countries,” he said.

Melamine-contaminated milk has killed four babies and sickened more than 50,000 children in mainland China.

Liang said melamine was never added to any Nestle milk products as an additive, pointing out that food experts maintain that traces of the chemical are widely found in the food chain. He insisted the milk powders produced in Heilongjiang are safe.

Taiwanese authorities have launched a sweeping inspection of milk powders and related products, including instant coffee, milk tea and baked goods. More than 160 products containing Chinese milk and vegetable-based proteins have been removed from stores.

The Chinese milk scare and the economic losses have led to renewed Taiwanese animosity toward rival China. The two sides split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing still claims the island a part of its territory.

A team of Taiwanese food experts met with their Chinese counterparts in Beijing over the weekend and decided to set up a mechanism to quickly inform the other side about any food safety problems.

The lawsuit filed in China is believed to be the first civil lawsuit filed in response to the contamination of milk, yogurt and other Chinese dairy products with melamine.

Although product liability lawsuits have become more common in recent years, attorney Ji Cheng said he would not know until next week if the court in Henan province would take the case.

“The court will make the decision whether to accept this case after the National Day holiday,” he said.

According to the lawsuit, the boy was fed baby formula made by Sanlu Group Co. from the time of his birth, said the report by Caijing, a leading Chinese business magazine.

The child’s parents, who come from central China’s Henan province, filed a lawsuit in a court in Zhenping county seeking $22,000 in compensation from Sanlu for medical, travel and other expenses incurred after the child developed kidney stones, the magazine said.

The Zhenping court has yet to accept the case.

Associated Press Writer Carley Petesch in New York contributed to this report.

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