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China tries to reassure public over milk scare

BEIJING, September 27 – China on Saturday scrambled to reassure the public over a toxic milk scandal, announcing that nearly 50 Chinese brands which had been tested contained no melamine.

The government said it had tested 47 brands of milk and yoghurt and detected no trace of melamine, the industrial chemical discovered in baby milk powder that has sickened 53,000 children and killed four so far.

China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision checked 296 batches of dairy products from the brands across the country’s major cities, an official at the agency confirmed to AFP on Saturday.

"No melamine was detected," the agency said on its website.

The test was good news for China, which has sought to contain a scandal that has had global repercussions, with countries and regions around the world rushing to ban or restrict its milk products.

The European Union on Friday decided to stop all imports of baby food containing traces of milk from China, and Hong Kong ordered a recall of two products found to contain melamine, including a brand of Heinz baby food.

Japan meanwhile has ordered firms which import dairy products from China to test them for melamine after the chemical — which is normally used to make plastics — was found in four items made by one of its leading food makers.

In China, where more than 7,000 tonnes of tainted dairy products had already been removed from shops across the country, a popular candy brand became the latest victim on Friday.

The maker of White Rabbit sweets, given to US president Richard Nixon on a landmark 1972 trip, announced it was halting domestic sales after its products were found to contain melamine.

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"Currently, it is extremely important to restore consumer confidence in the country’s milk product brands," Chen Deming, Commerce Minister, said Saturday in a statement on the central government website.

"This can only be achieved through our efforts, through effective monitoring and detection."

New cases of children falling ill after drinking tainted milk also continued to emerge in China, with 176 new cases detected in the capital, the Beijing Times reported Saturday.

Authorities in Shanghai also revealed that about five percent of children under three in the city had showed symptoms of possible kidney stones after being fed contaminated milk powder, the China Daily said Friday.

A hospital in Taiwan said three young children had developed kidney stones after drinking Chinese milk formula, and the mother of one of the children had also fallen ill.

Hong Kong has reported five cases of children falling ill from drinking tainted milk, in the only other cases reported outside mainland China so far.

Chinese scientists said they were developing a chemical substance that could detect melamine fast and cheaply, and could be used by any dairy farmer, the official Xinhua news agency reported Saturday.

Professors at Lanzhou University in northwest China told Xinhua a dose of the reagent could detect traces of melamine in 20 minutes and would only cost 20 yuan (3 dollars), compared to the longer process of laboratory testing.

The university is to develop the reagent at the request of the government in Gansu province.

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