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Food recalls grow in Chinese tainted milk crisis

Food recalls expanded in Europe and Asia on Thursday as an industrial chemical linked to the deaths of four babies turned up in candies and other Chinese-made exports that were quickly pulled from store shelves.

Food recalls expanded in Europe and Asia on Thursday as an industrial chemical linked to the deaths of four babies turned up in candies and other Chinese-made exports that were quickly pulled from store shelves.

In China, authorities were pulling White Rabbit candy from stores in Shanghai and the southern province of Hainan. They were the first public reports of domestic recalls of goods other than milk products and milk.

In Hong Kong, tests on White Rabbit showed it contained an "unsatisfactory" level of melamine, more than six times the legal limit, according to the government's Center for Food Safety.

There has been no public announcement of a nationwide recall of the candy from China's safety watchdog.

A woman who works at the propaganda department of the quality body, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said that she did not know of White Rabbit candy being recalled in China. She did not give her name, as is common with officials in China.

It issued a recall list on Sept. 16 for 69 batches of milk powder made by 22 companies. The only other recall list was on Sept. 19 for liquid milk.

The Shanghai government has urged a subsidiary of Bright Food Group to stop the sales of White Rabbit candy — one of the best-known candies in China — and pull them off the shelves, and to recall those for export that are likely to have problems, it said.

The subsidiary, Guan Sheng Yuan, has been making White Rabbit candies for almost 50 years, with exports to Southeast Asia and Chinese communities overseas.

A man who answered the phone at the company said Bright Food Group is having a meeting to discuss what to do next after reports the candy had tested positive for melamine. He did not give his name, saying the company has yet to appoint a spokesman.

"The inspection is ongoing and we are waiting for the results," Xu Yongxin, a public affairs official for Bright Food Group Co, which makes the candy, said by phone Thursday.

Australia and New Zealand also issued recalls Thursday for imported White Rabbit candy.

N.Z. takes action

New Zealand Food Safety Authority spokesman Geoff Allen said he expected the White Rabbit Creamy Candies to be off shelves within 24 hours.

"This product contains sufficiently high levels of melamine which may, in some individuals, cause health problems such as kidney stones," deputy chief executive Sandra Daly said in a statement. "The levels we have found in these products are unacceptable."

Australian food regulators issued a statement late Wednesday announcing they had formally requested that wholesalers and importers voluntarily withdraw the candies pending further testing for melamine, an industrial chemical used to make plastics and fertilizer.

Vietnam also temporarily banned milk products from China and stepped up import inspections. The Ministry of Health has dispatched two teams of health workers and police to inspect dairy products, said the ministry's deputy chief inspector, Bui Duc Phong, on Thursday.

South Korea banned imports of any Chinese-made food products containing powdered milk Thursday following the discovery of biscuits tainted with melamine.

Myanmar's state media said authorities will destroy nearly 16 tonnes of Chinese powdered milk, valued at $50,000 US, because it was made by one of 22 dairy companies with chemically tainted products. The Bi-Weekly Eleven journal said in its Thursday edition that the milk powder made by China's Yili Industrial Group Co. had not yet been distributed in Myanmar.

Chinese baby formula tainted with the chemical has not only been blamed for the deaths of four infants in China but also for the illnesses of 53,000 others there. Health experts say ingesting a small amount of the chemical poses no danger, but melamine can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure. Infants are particularly vulnerable.

The problem also now affects animals. Three baby animals — two orangutans and a lion cub — at the Hangzhou Wild Animal Park near Shanghai have kidney stones after being fed milk powder for more than a year, said Zhang Xu, a veterinarian with the Hangzhou Zhangxu Animal Hospital.  

In China's tropical Hainan Island, some supermarkets in the capital Haikou have pulled White Rabbit candies from the shelves, according to a report on the website of People's Daily on Thursday.

It is not clear if China's safety watchdog has ordered a nationwide recall of the candy.

U.S. and European consumer safety officials urged Beijing to better enforce product safety standards.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said White Rabbit candy has been added to its list of products being inspected at ports of entry, but that no melamine-tainted goods from China of any sort have turned up yet. Nonetheless, some ethnic grocers started removing the popular candies from their shelves.

A woman who answered the phone at AsianFoodGrocer.com in San Francisco said the company is no longer selling White Rabbit candies. 

"Everything has been taken off-line," said the woman, who would not give her name.

On Wednesday, British supermarket chain Tesco removed Chinese-made White Rabbit Creamy Candies off its shelves as a precaution amid reports that samples of the milk candy in Singapore and New Zealand had tested positive for melamine.