13,000 Babies in Hospital for China Formula

(New York Times – China)

By JIM YARDLEY

 

China’s milk scandal worsened again Sunday as the government announced that the number of infants hospitalized after consuming contaminated baby formula had risen to nearly 13,000, more than double the previous tally.

 

The Ministry of Health, which posted the new figures on its Web site, traced most cases to tainted formula produced by the Sanlu Group, the giant dairy producer whose formula has been recalled because of contamination from an industrial additive, melamine.

 

Across the country, the ministry reported, 53,000 infants have suffered some degree of illness from melamine-contaminated dairy products. Roughly 40,000 of them were examined and “recovered” without being admitted to a hospital. The other 12,892 infants were hospitalized with more serious kidney problems. Of those, 1,579 have already recovered and been discharged.

 

State media have reported four infant death from kidney problems linked to the melamine. However, the Health Ministry put the number at three.

 

The bad formula has turned into a nationwide food safety crisis since it became public less than two weeks ago that one baby had died and a few dozen had been sickened.

 

Officials last week said melamine had been found in powdered formula from 22 dairy companies. Then officials announced that traces of melamine had also been found in samples of liquid milk, including some from the country’s top dairy producers.

 

Melamine, high in nitrogen, can be used illegally to artificially inflate protein levels in milk.

 

For the government, the scandal is a recurrence of food safety concerns that arose just last year and that officials had pledged to correct with revamped regulatory controls. Last year, thousands of pets in the United States were sickened from food made with Chinese feed laced with melamine. At the time, officials issued regulations banning the use of melamine in food products.

 

On Sunday, state media carried reports of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visiting Children’s Hospital in Beijing. “Don’t cry, and it will be over in minutes,” he was quoted as telling a 9-month-old girl undergoing an examination.

 

The Health Ministry reported that no sick infants on the mainland had been linked to tainted liquid milk.

 

The scandal’s first victim beyond the mainland was reported this weekend as Hong Kong authorities said an infant had been hospitalized and later released after consuming tainted dairy products from the mainland. 9-22-08

 

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