China Reassures Taiwan Consumers Milk Is Safe

After a baby in Hong Kong fell sick from consuming milk and cookies laced with melamine, China sought to reassure Taiwanese consumers that its dairy products were safe.

BEIJING (AP) -- China sought to reassure Taiwanese consumers that its dairy products were safe Wednesday, a day after authorities confirmed that a baby in Hong Kong developed kidney stones from consuming milk and cookies laced with melamine.

Spokesman Yang Yi of China's Taiwan Affairs Office said at a news conference in Beijing that mainland authorities were very concerned about the scandal, in which contaminated infant formula killed four babies and sickened tens of thousands of children nationwide.

"We have taken a serious approach," Yang said. "China has launched a thorough investigation into this issue to help restore the trust of Taiwanese consumers."

After China's melamine tainting scandal broke last month, Taiwanese authorities launched a sweeping inspection of milk powders and related food items. More than 160 products containing Chinese milk and vegetable-based proteins have been removed from stores.

Taiwanese and Chinese food safety authorities have agreed to set up a hot line to inform each other of food safety emergencies.

The Chinese milk scare and related economic losses have led to renewed Taiwanese animosity toward rival China. The two sides split amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing still claims the island as a part of its territory.

China has ordered all milk products more than a month old pulled from store shelves for emergency testing, the largest blanket product withdrawal since the scandal first came to light.

All milk powder and liquid milk produced before Sept. 14 must be tested by manufacturers nationwide, China's chief quality watchdog said in an announcement reported by the official Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday and posted on its Web site Wednesday.

"Regardless of the brand or the batch, they must be taken off shelves. Their sale must be stopped," according to the order from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

Products will be sold again only after they pass quality tests and are labeled as saying they do not exceed limits for melamine, the safety watchdog said.

It was not clear why the cutoff date for the latest notice was Sept. 14, but China launched a countrywide inspection of dairy producing facilities focusing on milk collecting centers on Sept. 15.

In Vietnam, state-controlled media said Wednesday the Health Ministry has banned all products for human consumption that are contaminated with melamine.

Deputy Health Minister Cao Minh Quang also told the Labor newspaper that importers must send back any tainted imported products to the country of origin.

Chinese authorities have blamed dairy suppliers for the food safety scandal that began last month, saying they added melamine to watered-down milk to fool quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein.

Melamine can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it and, in extreme cases, lead to life-threatening kidney failure. Infants are particularly susceptible.

Hong Kong's government said Tuesday a 2-year-old boy developed two kidney stones after consuming melamine-laced milk and cookies.

Government spokesman Alex Cheng said the boy had been drinking three packs of milk produced by Chinese dairy Yili Industrial Group Co. each week for the past two years. He also ate about five packs per week of chocolate-filled Koala cookies, made by Tokyo-based snack maker Lotte Group.

The tainted-milk crisis has spread overseas, with Chinese milk products pulled out of stores in dozens of countries as governments increase vigilance and step up their safety tests.

Associated Press Writer Dikky Sinn in Hong Kong contributed to the report.

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