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December 7, 2011

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Radiation detected in baby formula

SHANGHAI has not imported milk products made in Japan since last year, it was confirmed yesterday in response to the recall of a brand of baby formula after traces of radiation were detected in it.

Meiji, Japan's leading dairy brand, said it was recalling canned powdered milk for infants, with expiration dates of October 2012, as a precaution, according to the Associated Press.

The levels of radioactive cesium were well below government-set safety limits, and the company said the amounts were low enough not to have any effect on babies' health even if they drank the formula every day.

The Shanghai Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau said all imported milk powder sold in the city was safe. Meiji Shanghai said all Meiji baby formula sold in Shanghai was produced in Australia.

However, formula from Japan has been available online.

Some online store owners bought Meiji baby formula directly from Japan, offering favorable prices because, as "purchasing agents" they didn't have to pay duty.

Yesterday, Hangzhou-based removed Meiji milk powder from the website's search results. "We have contacted industrial and commercial authorities in Hangzhou, and the search results won't be resumed until we get their permission," said Li Yun, a company official.

Tests by Meiji showed that up to 30.8 becquerels of cesium was found per kilogram of the powdered milk. That was well below the Japanese government's limit of 200, but the firm was nevertheless conducting a voluntary recall of 400,000 cans of infant formula produced in Japan.

Meiji said it was unsure exactly how cesium had got into the powdered milk, but it suspected radioactive substances emitted from the Fukushima accident in March may have been the source.

A company spokesman told Reuters hot air used in the drying process may have contained cesium.

Worries over the safety of food supplies have shaken the public after an earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in the worst nuclear accident in 25 years, spreading radiation over a large swathe of northern and eastern Japan.

Cases of excessive radiation in vegetables, tea, milk, seafood and water have stoked anxiety despite assurances from public officials that the levels are not dangerous, Reuters said.

Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the Fukushima plant, has made slow but steady progress in bringing the facility under control, curbing the amount of radiation emitted from its reactors and reducing temperatures of the water cooling them to levels considered stable.

It is on track to declare a "cold shutdown" - when water used to cool the reactors is stable below boiling point - before the end of the year, according to Reuters.

The company said on Sunday about 45 tons of contaminated water had leaked from a system that cleans radiated water, of which the utility said 300 liters escaped outside. But Japan's Trade and Energy Minister Yukio Edano said that the leak would not affect achieving a cold shutdown before the end of the year.


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