September 26, 2008 / 4:55 AM / 11 years ago

Shanghai fears grow in China milk powder scandal

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Up to five percent of young infants in Shanghai could have kidney stones after drinking tainted milk formula, local media reported on Friday, as publicity surrounding the scandal is muted by China’s manned space mission.

Beijing is battling public alarm and international dismay after thousands of Chinese children were hospitalized, sick from infant milk formula tainted with melamine, a cheap industrial chemical that can be used to cheat quality checks.

“A recent citywide health check of children under three years old showed about five percent were diagnosed with symptoms of possible kidney stones after being fed contaminated powdered milk,” the China Daily reported.

The paper did not give an estimate of the number of children who might be affected.

The European Commission proposed on Thursday tests and restrictions on Chinese food products containing powdered milk as UNICEF and the World Health Organization called China’s growing milk scandal “deplorable.”

In Hong Kong, the government said a fifth child was suffering kidney problems related to drinking tainted milk. The 10-year-old boy was found to have kidney stones.

In Shanghai, the producer of China’s popular White Rabbit Creamy Candies said it would stop domestic sales of such sweets as a “conscientious decision to protect consumers,” Xinhua news agency quoted an official as saying.

The candy’s producer, Guanshengyuan, had earlier recalled its exports to more than 50 countries after the White Rabbit sweets tested positive for melamine in Singapore and Hong Kong.

The number of known children hospitalized after consuming toxic formula tainted with melamine remained at 13,000, with China’s Health Ministry not having provided any updated casualty figures for close to a week.

At least four infants have died.

Hong Kong’s health department said in its latest tests on mainland milk products that none of 105 samples had been found to be contaminated with melamine.

Nitrogen-rich melamine can be added to substandard or watered-down milk to fool quality checks, which often use nitrogen levels to measure the amount of protein in milk.

The chemical is used in pesticides and in making plastics.

In Taiwan, Pizza Hut stopped providing packets of powdered cheese that come as a condiment with its pizzas after it learned from the supplier that the product contained melamine.

She added that Pizza Hut’s pizzas in Taiwan were not affected because they use cheese from the United States and New Zealand.

A day after a spate of countries in Europe and Asia announced precautionary bans on imports of Chinese milk products, coverage of the scandal has been scaled back to make room for China’s successful launch of its third manned space mission.

Millions across China watched the launch on live TV and images of the rocket blasting off were splashed across newspapers, with editorials feting the technological milestone as another great leap forward for China after the Beijing Olympics.

Additional reporting by Gina Chang in Taipei; Editing by Nick Macfie and David Fogarty

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