- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

BEIJING (AP) China is investigating the safety of milk products produced by one of the country’s largest dairies and a unit of France’s Groupe Danone SA. Both companies insisted there were no problems.

The Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision said Thursday in a one-sentence statement that the bureau was looking into “the quality and safety of Dumex milk powder” but did not give other details

The official Xinhua News Agency said that investigations were centered around whether Dumex produced infant formula contaminated with melamine, which is used in the manufacture of plastic and fertilizer.

Last year, at least six Chinese babies died and nearly 300,000 were sickened with kidney stones and other problems by milk tainted with the industrial chemical. The scandal, one of the worst food contamination crises to hit China, underscores the government’s chronic problems with policing product quality.

Xinhua said the Dumex investigation was triggered by overseas media reports last month that some four dozen babies suffered kidney-related illnesses after drinking the company’s milk. It did not identify the reports. But Radio Free Asia, a U.S.-funded radio station, reported on its Web site that the baby of a woman in southwestern China’s Guizhou province had developed kidney stones after drinking Dumex formula for seven months. In the report, she said she had evidence that 48 other babies from around the country had gotten sick after drinking Dumex milk.

In a statement posted on its Chinese-language Web site, Dumex said there was “no evidence pointing to Dumex products as the cause of any illness.”

“We guarantee all consumers that all Dumex products produced and sold in mainland China are safe,” the statement said. “We are fully confident about the quality of our products. Product safety and consumer satisfaction have always been our goal.”

The company said that after the milk scandal erupted last September, government-certified laboratories conducted spot checks on 2,651 batches of Dumex products made since April 2007. None were found to be contaminated with melamine, it said.

Meanwhile, China’s quality watchdog said it was researching the safety of an unapproved protein additive in a premium line of milk produced by the Mengniu Dairy Group Co., one of the country’s biggest dairies.

The additive called OMP, a milk protein, is found only in Mengniu’s Telunsu line. The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said results would be published at a later date.

A Mengniu statement released Wednesday said OMP or osteoblast milk protein aides the absorption of calcium and promotes bone growth. It is commonly used in other countries under the name “Milk Basic Protein” or MBP, Mengniu said.

“The safety of MBP has been recognized by authoritative international organizations,” the statement said without giving more details.

Mengniu spokeswoman Zhao Yuanhua said the statement was issued in response to a report Wednesday by Hexun.com, a Chinese business news Web site, on the presence of OMP and IGF-1, a growth hormone, in the Telunsu line. The statement also said that IGF-1 occurs naturally in milk and was not present in unusually high levels in Telunsu.

China has been trying to monitor the overall usage of additives in food products. In December, the Ministry of Health released a list of substances banned from being added to food. They included chemicals used in industrial dyes, insecticides and drain cleaners. OMP and IGF-1 are not on the list nor are they on a list of approved additives.

Hexun.com said China’s quality watchdog sent a letter to Mengniu earlier this month asking it to prove the safety of the two substances. It is unclear what prompted the investigation.

The recurring problems indicate that a lax inspection regime still exists, despite repeated promises by the central government to step up product safety monitoring.

Last year’s milk scandal, over nitrogen-rich melamine that was added to milk to fool protein tests, also exposed loose controls over large companies like Mengniu and Yili Industrial Group Co., whose products were recalled.

Both were exempt from government inspections under waivers given to companies deemed to have proper quality controls. Those waivers were scrapped after the scandal erupted.

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