China Investigates More Milk Products For Melamine

By: By AUDRA ANG
By: By AUDRA ANG

BEIJING (AP) - China is investigating milk products produced by one of the country's largest dairies and a unit of France's Groupe Danone SA for an unapproved additive and melamine. Both companies insisted their products were safe.

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 Mengniu Dairy Group Co. is being investigated by China's quality watchdog for an unapproved protein additive one of its lines of milk.

The official Xinhua News Agency said that investigations into Dumex, a subsidiary of Danone, were centered on whether the company produced infant formula contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of plastics 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 chemical. The scandal, one of the worst food contamination crises to hit China, underscores the government's chronic problems with policing product quality.

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

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.

Radio Free Asia, a U.S.-funded radio station, said 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.

Mengniu says 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," a Mengniu statement said without giving more details.

Tatua Co-Operative Dairy Company, a New Zealand dairy company that supplies OMP protein ingredients to Mengniu, said Thursday that it was "utterly confident" the Chinese investigation would find no issues and that the additional testing was routine.

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.

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.

Sanlu Group Co., the dairy at the center of the crisis, was declared bankrupt on Thursday, state media reported.


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