- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 20, 2008

BEIJING | China‘s tainted-milk crisis widened Friday after tests found the industrial chemical melamine in liquid milk produced by three of the country’s leading dairy companies, the nation’s quality watchdog said.

Singapore suspended the sale and importation of all Chinese milk and dairy products because several tested items were contaminated.

Tainted baby formula has been blamed for killing four infants and sickening 6,200 in China since the scandal broke last week. Some 1,300 babies, mostly newborns, are currently in hospitals and 158 of them are suffering from acute kidney failure. Thousands of parents across the country were bringing their children to hospitals for health checks.

The crisis was initially thought to have been confined to tainted powdered milk. But about 10 percent of liquid milk samples taken from Mengniu Dairy Group Co. and Yili Industrial Group Co. — China’s two largest dairy producers — contained melamine, according to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. Milk from Shanghai-based Bright Dairy also showed contamination.

Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said tests revealed traces of melamine in samples of a Yili-brand yogurt bar and Dutch Lady-brand strawberry milk manufactured in China. Authorities said they plan to destroy all samples of these two products in Singapore. Officials also warned local food manufacturers against using milk products from China as ingredients.

Hong Kong‘s two biggest grocery chains, PARKnSHOP and Wellcome, pulled all liquid milk by Mengniu from their shelves Friday. A day earlier, Hong Kong had recalled milk, yogurt, ice cream and other products made by Yili Industrial Group Co.

Starbucks Corp. said its 300 cafes in mainland China had pulled milk supplied by Mengniu. Seattle-based Starbucks said no employees or customers had fallen ill from the milk. Agence France-Presse reported that the chain stopped serving drinks with milk in many Chinese outlets Friday.

Mengniu Chief Financial Officer Yao Tongshan apologized for the tainted milk at a news conference in Hong Kong. But in a show of confidence, he sipped from a carton of Mengniu milk while saying that only a small portion of the company’s inventory was contaminated and that the tainted milk came from small suppliers.

The scandal began with complaints over milk powder by Sanlu Group Co. — one of China’s best-known and most respected brands. But it quickly became a much larger problem as government tests found that one-fifth of the companies producing baby milk powder had melamine in their products.

Melamine is a toxic industrial chemical that can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure. It has no nutritional value but is high in nitrogen, making products with it appear higher in protein. Suppliers trying to cut costs are believed to have added it to watered-down milk to cover up the resulting protein deficiency.

The scandal is the latest in a series of problems with tainted products made in China. The crisis has raised doubts about the effectiveness of tighter controls China promised after a series of food safety scares in recent years over contaminated seafood, toothpaste and a pet food ingredient tainted with melamine.

While most of the suspect dairy products are only sold domestically, two of the companies involved exported baby formula to five countries in Asia and Africa. Other products such as milk, yogurt and ice cream went to Hong Kong.

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