Wednesday, September 17, 2008

China: Third baby dies from tainted formula

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- The scope of China's contaminated baby formula case grew Wednesday as officials reported the death of a third infant and a spike in those made ill by it.

Parents show babies suffering from kidney stones at a hospital in Lanzhou, Gansu province.

Parents show babies suffering from kidney stones at a hospital in Lanzhou, Gansu province.

More than 6,200 babies have been sickened by the tainted milk powder, said Li Changjiang, China's director of quarantine and inspection, up from about 1,200 on Tuesday.

More than 1,300 infants are hospitalized. The illnesses include malnutrition, kidney stones and acute renal failure.

Originally Chinese officials said all of the tainted formula had remained in China, other than a small amount that was exported to Taiwan. But Li said Wednesday that the powder has also been shipped to five other nations, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Yemen, Chad and Burundi.

Recalls of the products by the Yashili and Suokang companies have been made, according to Li. Numerous other Chinese companies have also been involved in the production of the contaminated milk powder.

Two brothers who sold fresh milk used to produce contaminated baby milk powder were arrested by Chinese investigators Monday and could face death if convicted, according to China Daily, the state-run newspaper. Watch a report on the arrests of milk suppliers »

The raw milk had been watered down and a chemical added to fool quality checks, the newspaper said.

The scandal prompted China agricultural officials to start a nationwide inspection of its dairy industry.

While 19 people were detained for questioning, the only ones arrested so far are the brothers who supplied about three tons of milk each day to the Sanlu Group, which manufactured the baby formula, the paper said.

Investigators said the brothers confessed to watering down the raw milk and mixing in tripolycyanamide, also known as melamine. They said they did it to recover losses suffered when the factory rejected earlier milk shipments, the paper reported.

The brothers are charged with producing and selling toxic and hazardous food, which carries a possible death penalty, the paper said.

Health experts say ingesting melamine can lead to kidney stones, urinary tract ulcers, and eye and skin irritation.

The chemical is commonly used in coatings and laminates, wood adhesives, fabric coatings, ceiling tiles and flame retardants.

Sanlu Group has recalled more than 8,200 tons of the tainted formula following reports of sickened babies, Xinhua said. Watch what Sanlu has done »

Sanlu, one of China's leading dairy producers, has also sealed off more than 2,100 tons of contaminated product, and another 700 tons still need to be recalled, the news agency said.

It is not the first time Sanlu has been connected to a scandal involving tainted milk powder, according to China Daily.

In 2004, at least 13 infants in the eastern Anhui province died of malnutrition after drinking milk powder that had little to no nutrition. The illegally manufactured milk was falsely labeled with the Sanlu brand, according to the paper.

This episode marks the latest in a string of tainted products produced in China.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled more than 150 brands of cat and dog food last year after finding that some pets became ill or died after eating food tainted with melamine, the same chemical found in the powdered milk.

Two Chinese businesses, a U.S. company and top executives of each were indicted by a federal grand jury in February in connection with tainted pet food, which resulted in deaths and serious illnesses in up to thousands of U.S. pets, federal prosecutors said.

In October 2007, regulators and retailers in the United States recalled at least 69,000 Chinese-made toys over concerns of excessive amounts of lead paint, which can cause hazardous lead poisoning.


In November, shipments of the popular toy Aqua Dots were found to have been contaminated with a toxic chemical that turned into a powerful "date rape" drug if swallowed, causing some children who ate the craft toys to vomit and lose consciousness.

And in February, a Maryland candy distributor pulled Pokemon-brand Valentine lollipops from store shelves after bits of metal were found in the sealed treats, authorities said.