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13,000 children hospitalised in China milk scare

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Sept 21, 2008
China said nearly 13,000 children were in hospital Sunday after drinking toxic milk powder in a dramatic escalation of Beijing's latest safety scandal.

As the World Health Organization questioned Beijing's handling of the crisis, premier Wen Jiabao appeared on state television promising to head off further incidents.

But a Hong Kong toddler also became the first child affected outside the mainland and more countries moved to bar Chinese milk products.

The health ministry said 12,892 infants were in hospital with 104 babies in serious condition, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Some 1,579 babies had been "cured" and discharged, the ministry said, adding that hospitals nationwide had seen almost 40,000. At least four children have died from drinking poisonous baby formula.

The scandal stems from the practice of adding industrial chemical melamine, normally used to make plastics, to watered-down milk to boost apparent protein levels.

Melamine, which causes urinary problems including kidney stones, was first discovered in baby formula and then in liquid milk, yoghurt and ice-cream, leading to mass recalls.

The problem first came to light last week in state-controlled media but New Zealand dairy Fonterra, which has a joint venture with China's Sanlu, has said it knew for weeks and had been pushing for a recall.

Some Chinese press reports have said the scam had been going on for years, with the country's chaotic and corrupt food safety system unable to detect or prevent it.

Shigeru Omi, Western Pacific director of the UN's World Health Organization, on Sunday raised concerns the matter was not reported earlier.

"Evidently there is also a problem with internal communication," Omi told a news conference in Manila.

"It seems people already knew of this problem for some time and did not share this information."

With Brunei, Bangladesh and Burundi becoming the latest countries to bar Chinese milk products, Wen pledged to put an end to the long line of safety scares.

"What we want to do now is prevent this happening again, not just with milk products, but with all foods," he said.

"We want to prevent similar incidents occurring so that the common people can eat in peace."

China has endured a litany of scandals in recent years over dangerous products including food, drugs and toys, many of which were exported, dealing a blow to its manufacturing reputation.

Last year, melamine was found in exports of Chinese pet food which killed cats and dogs in the United States.

Meanwhile Hong Kong's government said a three-year-old girl developed a kidney stone after drinking Chinese milk powder but she has left hospital and is in good condition.

Burundi became the third African country to bar Chinese milk products after Gabon and Tanzania, while Brunei joined neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore and Bangladesh in freezing imports.

A Japanese company is recalling thousands of buns made with Chinese milk, fearing contamination. Eighteen people have been arrested in China over the scandal, state media have said.

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China must probe delays in uncovering milk-scandal: WHO
Beijing (AFP) Sept 18, 2008
The World Health Organisation on Thursday called for China to find out why it took months for a scandal involving deadly tainted milk powder to become public.

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