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February 2, 2010

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Watchdog in new melamine battle

CHINA'S food safety watchdog has begun a nationwide campaign to eliminate melamine-laced dairy products that reappeared more than a year after a tainted milk scandal that killed at least six infants and sickened more than 300,000 in 2008.

The raw materials of the newly found products date back to 2008. They were ordered to be destroyed after the scandal came to light yet some producers hid them and used them a year later when they thought scrutiny had lapsed, Xinhua news agency said yesterday.

The tainted material was used to make ice cream and other dairy products, said Chen Zhu, head of the country's Ministry of Health. Chen ordered local governments to intensify examination for melamine and pull tainted products off the shelves as soon as they were found.

Products found in Shanghai and Shaanxi, Shandong, Liaoning and Hebei provinces so far have been destroyed, the news agency said.

High levels of melamine were found during a regular inspection of a high-calcium milk powder for the elderly made by Shanghai Panda Dairy Co last December. Three company executives were arrested after the incident.

Authorities began an investigation after the discovery, which found four batches of milk powder and four batches of condensed milk produced by the company had illegally high melamine levels.

In an earlier case last December, three men were arrested in Shaanxi Province for trafficking five tons of melamine-laced milk powder to south China's Guangxi Province.

Unscrupulous Chinese milk producers have been adding melamine to dairy products to boost the protein content of their products.

It is believed the substance may cause cancer or reproductive damage after long term exposure. It could also lead to bladder and kidney stones.

The 2008 melamine scandal came to light after mothers around the nation complained that their babies began to scream and cry when urinating after consuming certain brands of milk powder.

The now-bankrupt Sanlu Group, based in northern China's Hebei Province, was the biggest offender. Panda's products had the second highest-melamine content after Sanlu.


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