China denies milk powder caused infant breasts

Clifford Coonan
Monday 16 August 2010 00:00

The Chinese health ministry said yesterday it has found no evidence that baby milk powder caused three infant girls to grow breasts. Parents and doctors in the central province of Hubei had said they were concerned that milk powder produced by Synutra International had caused at least three girls to develop prematurely.

Experts tested products made by Synutra and 20 other brands to compare the levels of oestrogen in dairy products. Deng Haihua, a health ministry spokesman, said the probe found the hormone content of the milk powder was within normal standards. "The Ministry of Health experts' group believes that there is no relationship between the premature development of breasts in the three infants in Hubei and Synutra milk powder," he said.

Professor Wu Xueyan, a medical researcher from the Peking Union Medical College Hospital, said the appearance of the breasts was likely due to the early onset of puberty. "We suggest keeping an eye on these infants to see whether or not there are further developments," he told the Xinhua news agency.

The early appearance of breasts was a common clinical condition, Dr Wu said, and there had been no notable nationwide rise in premature development of breasts. The case has nevertheless acted as a reminder of persistent food safety fears among Chinese consumers. The investigation was carried out by some of the country's top researchers, a sign of the seriousness with which consumer issues are now taken.

Experts from different medical institutes jointly tested more than 70 samples of milk powder products. Dr Wu said the premature development was most likely an example of "minimal puberty," a natural result of hormone secretion. Tainted milk powder killed six children and made hundreds of thousands sick in 2008, causing widespread public anger. Standards have been tightened up but in July authorities seized 64 tons of milk powder laced with melamine, the deadly additive at the centre of the 2008 health scare.

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