WHO condemns China as number of sick children nears 13,000 in milk tainting
The World Health Organization condemned Chinese authorities on Sunday for substandard food quality control, as the first illness from China's milk contamination scandal was reported outside the mainland.
Chinese authorities faced mounting pressure to contain a growing crisis over widespread contamination of infant milk supplies, which has sickened 12,892 children, more than double the previous count, according to the country's Health Ministry.
In the Philippines on Sunday, the WHO's Western Pacific director, Dr. Shigeru Omi, criticized the lack of transparency in China over the scandal.
Omi suggested the problem was known to some people before the crisis broke.
"It seems that some people already knew about this problem for some time but did not share the information," he said.
He declined to provide more details or identify at what levels of government the information on tainted milk products was withheld, adding that Chinese authorities have begun an investigation.
Tainted formula has killed 4 babies
Four babies have died in China and 104 are seriously ill after being fed baby formula laced with an industrial chemical, melamine, which has no nutritional value but was added to make the product appear higher in protein. It can cause kidney stones and lead to renal failure.
On Saturday the crisis developed outside mainland China when Hong Kong's government announced a three-year-old girl had been diagnosed with a kidney stone after drinking milk containing the chemical.
The girl's parents took her for a check-up because she had been drinking milk made by Chinese dairy Yili daily for the past 15 months.
Yili Industrial Group Company is one of 22 companies whose milk and dairy products were recalled after batches of their products were found to contain melamine.
The girl was diagnosed with a kidney stone but was in good condition and has been released from the hospital, the government said.
The Chinese government has launched high-profile efforts to show it is on top of the crisis, with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao appearing on state-run television on Sunday calling for dairy companies to show more "social responsibility."
Wen was shown visiting a Beijing hospital where children were having health checks, he also stopped at a supermarket to look at dairy products.
"What we need to do now is to ensure that nothing like this happens in the future, not only in dairy products but in all food," Wen said.
Since the problem of tainted milk products became public knowledge less than two weeks ago, the crisis has spread to include almost all of China's biggest dairy companies.
Their products have been pulled from stores around the country, and in other places such as the self-governing Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau.
Hong Kong, Taiwan pull dairy products
On Sunday, retailers in Hong Kong and Taiwan announced they had pulled some dairy products in the wake of the contamination crisis.
Hong Kong's two main supermarket chains said they were recalling milk powder made by Swiss manufacturer Nestle after a newspaper reported that it contained melamine.
Spokeswomen for both companies said they acted as a precaution after a report in Hong Kong's Apple Daily on Sunday said tests it commissioned showed that Nestle milk powder made in China's northeastern Heilongjiang province contained melamine.
Nestle's Hong Kong office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment, but the company said in a statement last Wednesday that none of its infant formula and milk powder products contained melamine.
"Nestle can hence assure its … customers that its products are safe for consumption," it said.
In Taiwan, King Car Company announced it has recalled packs of its Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea containing contaminated milk powder imported from China.
Japan and Singapore have recalled Chinese-made dairy products, and the governments of Malaysia and Brunei announced bans on milk products from China even though neither country currently imports Chinese dairy items.
The concern is because melamine has been found not only in powdered milk — used to make baby formula and other products — but also in liquid milk sold by China's biggest dairies.