MANILA (AFP) — The World Health Organisation said Sunday it is helping China solve its tainted milk formula problem, while criticising the government for initially failing to alert the international community.
Beijing officially sought the WHO's help on September 11, telling the UN body it had monitored 6,244 cases of people ingesting formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, WHO Western Pacific director Shigeru Omi told a news conference in Manila.
Four infants have died after drinking contaminated milk.
While there has been no confirmed cases of tainted milk being exported to other countries, both Hong Kong and Singapore have reported similar problems and the WHO said it has advised other countries to take precautions.
A number of countries have banned Chinese milk imports, and WHO officials acknowledged the problem may be bigger than what is now known.
One other country it would not name has been queried about possible melamine contamination on its "fish feed" products, WHO food safety expert Tony Savage told the news conference. He declined to give details.
"WHO has been informed on the 11th of September and this of course is a serious public health issue," Omi said.
"Recent events point to a weaknesses in the food control system in China and also it seems there is much room for improvement in terms of coordination among government agencies, the health and agriculture ministries and quality control authorities."
Omi said without naming names "evidently there is also a problem with internal communication. It seems people already knew of this problem for some time and did not share this information."
He said the WHO was convinced Beijing was now taking the issue seriously with wide-ranging food safety inspections and product recalls.
"WHO believes it is the right direction," Omi said, stressing the issue is not a unique issue in China with globalisation allowing large volumes of food items to be traded across borders.
Omi said WHO experts are now helping China develop its laboratory capability and improve quality control for its food products.
Savage said 65 Chinese brands have been identified as having been contaminated with melamine, which he said manufacturers apparently used to fraudulently boost the protein content of their products.
source: WHO hits out at China over formula scandal