Panic over Chinese milk exports

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The Independent Online

China today tried to calm jitters about exports of tainted baby milk powder to five poor developing nations, saying no problems had been reported so far and that the government was working hard to address the issue.

Thousands of Chinese babies have fallen ill and at least three have died after drinking milk formula tainted with melamine, a substance banned in food, in the latest food safety scandal to hit the world's most populous country.

The government has already announced that five countries - Yemen, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Gabon and Burundi - have imported milk powder made by two Chinese firms whose products were found to be contaminated.

"Though there has been no bad reaction, the quality watchdog has demanded that these companies take action to recall the products," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news briefing.

She declined to comment on how this incident could affect China's trade relations with the rest of the world.

Meanwhile Hong Kong has ordered the recall of a Chinese company's products after tests found that eight out of 30 of its products, including milk, ice cream and yogurt, were contaminated with melamine.

Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Co Ltd (600887.SS) is one of several Chinese firms implicated in China's growing milk powder contamination scandal. Powdered milk poweder containing melamine has killed four infants in China and made over 6,000 more ill.

"We are recalling the Yili products and the importer is also recalling all Yili products from the Yili brand," said Constance Chan, the Controller of Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety, after latest round of test results of 30 samples of milk products.

"That would involve milk, milk beverages, yogurt, ice cream and ice bar. Eight out of 30 products of Yili company contain melamine," she added.

Last year a furious European Union threatened to ban imports from China if the country did not act more aggressively against makers of substandard goods. Similar calls where made by some politicians in the United States.

China has come under increasing pressure from trading partners to improve product quality following a series of scares ranging from drug-tainted seafood to dangerous toys and poisonous cough syrup and toothpaste.

Jiang defended China's reaction to the milk powder case.

"The State Council pays great attention to this issue," she said, referring to the Cabinet.

"Related departments have taken effective measures in the shortest possible time," Jiang added. "We will certainly deal with this seriously in accordance with the law. "Protecting product quality and ensuring food safety is a common challenge and task for all governments. The Chinese government will certainly take a very responsible attitude and earnestly deal with the problem."

In Myanmar, state media has made no mention of the case.

But the Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institute says it had collected samples of milk imported from China and sent it for laboratory tests.

"We are really worried (over reported contamination of imported milk) like others and are serious to deal with the issue," institute director Lutfor Rahman told Reuters.

On Thursday, South Korea's Food and Drug Administration said it was also testing products made with powered milk from China, with results expected next week.

"We predict that the products will be free from melamine contamination, but if they are contaminated, they will be recalled," one official said.