China's Milk Scandal Spills Across Asia

Hundreds of international food companies have set up operations in China in recent years, exposing them to the country's notorious product safety problems.

BEIJING (AP) -- Cookies from a major Japanese confectioner and Chinese-made baby cereal and crackers were the latest products caught up in tainted milk scandal Friday, while Taiwan reported three young children with kidney stones in the island's first cases possibly linked to the crisis.

Still, the World Health Organization said it did not expect the number of victims to grow dramatically.

Powdered milk contaminated with melamine has been blamed in the illnesses of some 54,000 children and the deaths of four infants, but WHO China representative Hans Troedsson said public awareness of the issue meant many young children were getting health checks and avoiding tainted products.

"I think we will see some more cases, but not the high number like so far," he said. "I think the recall and more thorough investigation and testing are now starting to eliminate some of these contaminated products from coming out to the public."

The list of problematic products continued to grow, with the Hong Kong government saying Friday it found traces of the industrial chemical melamine in Heinz DHA+AA vegetable formula baby cereal and in Silang House steamed potato wasabi crackers. Both products were made in mainland China, it said.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Heinz ordered a recall of the baby cereal as a precautionary measure following the Hong Kong government's announcement, it said in a statement on its Web site.

It said all other Heinz products were found to be melamine-free after extensive testing.

Meanwhile, the government in the Chinese territory of Macau said it had found levels of melamine at 24 times the safety limit in Koala's March cookies made by Lotte China Foods Co. The company is a member of Tokyo-based conglomerate Lotte Group.

An official at Lotte (China) Investment Co. Ltd. in Shanghai said Friday that previous inspections had not shown any problems.

"But now that it tested positive in Macau, we find it necessary to do the inspections all over again," said Guo Hongming, a legal assistant in the Lotte Shanghai's corporate planning department.

Company spokeswoman Ruka Mizuno in Tokyo said products sold in Japan are not made with Chinese dairy ingredients.

Hundreds of international food companies have set up operations in China in recent years, exposing them to the country's notorious product safety problems. Melamine-tainted products have turned up in an increasing number of Chinese-made exports abroad -- from candies to yogurt to rice balls.

Only some types of milk powder and milk have been recalled in mainland China so far, but the maker of one of China's most popular candies said Friday it had halted sales because of suspected melamine contamination. White Rabbit-brand creamy candies have already been pulled from shelves around Asia and in Britain.

"It's a tragedy for the Chinese food industry and a big lesson for us as it ruined the time-honored brand," Ge Junjie, a vice president of Bright Foods (Group) Co. Ltd., was quoted as saying by the Shanghai Daily.

Bright Foods' subsidiary Guangshengyuan produces White Rabbit.

Ge was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency on Friday as saying that the company was waiting for test results from the Shanghai Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.

"We decided to halt all sales of White Rabbit candy, although the test results have not yet come out," Ge said.

Concern about White Rabbit candies has also spread to South America, where Surinamese health authorities ordered food markets to stop selling them as a precautionary measure. White Rabbit candies are widely available in Suriname, where people of Chinese heritage make up roughly 8 percent of the population.

In Taiwan, where there have been huge concerns about the safety of milk and related products imported from China, Pizza Hut said Friday that it had suspended supplying cheese powder found to be contaminated by melamine.

Wu Yu-ping, an official of Pizza Hut's Taiwan branch, said the tainted cheese was supplied by Taiwan's Kaiyuan Company, but its source is not known.

Taiwanese authorities announced Friday the first reported cases on the island of illnesses that may be related to tainted Chinese milk products.

Three Taiwanese children -- two 3-year-old girls and a 1-year-old boy -- who had been consuming Chinese milk formula were found to have kidney stones. The mother of one of the girls also has kidney stones, said Liu Yi-lien, health chief of Ilan County in eastern Taiwan.

"They have all consumed Chinese milk, but more tests are needed to establish the link to their kidney stones," Liu said.

Five other children have become ill as a result of using melamine-tainted products in the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

On Thursday, the European Union banned imports of baby food containing Chinese milk. The move by the 27-nation EU adds to the growing list of countries that have banned or recalled Chinese dairy products because of the contamination.

Health experts say ingesting a small amount of melamine poses no danger, but in larger doses, the chemical -- used to make plastics and fertilizer -- can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure. Infants are particularly vulnerable.

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