China to freeze milk exports

October 2, 2008 12:00 am

, BEIJING, October 2 – China has vowed to halt dairy exports until it can eliminate the threat from tainted milk that has sickened thousands in China and led to product recalls worldwide, a Japanese official said Thursday.

The promise was made during a briefing by China for foreign diplomats from several countries in Beijing on Tuesday, the government official revealed to AFP.

"The point made there was that the Chinese government has handled the matter promptly and firmly and has taken measures to halt exports of dairy products, which will not be resumed until their safety is fully confirmed," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The official’s account of the briefing could not be immediately confirmed by AFP as Chinese government offices and many embassies were closed for a week-long holiday.

China is struggling to limit the damage to its export reputation caused by the widespread distribution of milk products contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, which is normally used to make plastic.

Such products have killed at least four children and sickened 53,000 in mainland China, the government has said previously.

Children in Hong Kong and Taiwan have also fallen ill with kidney stones after consuming Chinese dairy products.

China’s Commerce Minister Chen Deming became the latest top official to promise tighter government controls as a result of the scandal but he acknowledged lax business ethics remained a problem.

"The government will improve quality inspection on dairy products," Chen was quoted as saying by the China Daily newspaper.

"But more importantly, the dairy enterprises must win consumers’ faith through honesty."

The melamine was added to milk before being sold to dairy manufacturers in a bid to falsely boost protein readings, Chinese authorities have said.

Countries around the world have announced steps to ban, recall or otherwise limit consumption of products containing Chinese milk.

Taiwan became the latest to find melamine in imported products, detecting the chemical in six milk products made by Nestle, the Swiss food giant, and banning these for sale on Thursday.

South Korea Thursday said it had banned the import of milk products from New Zealand which were used in baby formula after discovering traces of melamine.

Government officials said it was the first case of melamine-tainted food from a country other than China.

The European Union recently banned all imports of Chinese milk-related products for children on top of a long-standing embargo on Chinese dairy products such as milk and yoghurt.

First appearing in baby milk formula, melamine has now been found in a range of products containing Chinese milk in what is arguably the worst in a litany of product safety scandals involving Chinese-made goods in recent years.

The nation’s top product safety watchdog said on Wednesday melamine had been found in 31 milk powder products made by 20 different companies.

The China Daily reported, however, that the public health threat may have peaked in China.

It said the number of babies brought into hospital for check-ups in the northern city of Shijianzhuang had dropped from a high of 43,000 a day to about 5,000.

Shijiazhuang, in northern Hebei province, is the headquarters of Sanlu Group, whose toxic baby formula was at the origin of the crisis and is one of the cities hit hardest by the scandal.


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