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Page last updated at 11:07 GMT, Wednesday, 17 September 2008 12:07 UK

Chinese baby milk toll escalates

Fifteen-month-old Tian Yaowen, who suffers kidney stones, cries in a ward of Tongji Hospital in Hubei province on Monday
Amid rising public anger, there are reports of a media crackdown

More than 6,200 babies have fallen ill after drinking formula milk made from contaminated powder, Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu has said.

The figure is five times higher than previously announced.

Mr Chen said a third baby had now died - with the latest fatality occurring in the Zhejiang province of eastern China.

Twenty-two brands of powder have been found to contain the toxic industrial chemical melamine, apparently added to make it appear higher in protein.

Mr Chen said a total of 6,244 infants were now sick, and that the number of those diagnosed with "acute kidney failure" had risen to 158.

He said free medical care would be provided to all affected infants.

Banned substance

The government has labelled the poisonings a "level one" food safety incident and formed an emergency team to grapple with the fallout.

Tests have so far revealed that 69 batches of formula made by 22 companies were contaminated with the banned substance, officials say.

Two of the brands are exported to Bangladesh, Yemen, Gabon, Burundi and Burma - although it is not clear if contaminated batches are involved.

Companies caught up in the scandal include the giant milk company Mengniu Dairy.

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People queue to return milk powder as infants are treated in hospital

It says it is recalling three batches of formula made in January, after government tests found melamine - normally used in plastics - in its product.

The dairy has also suspended trading of its shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

The company at the heart of the scandal, the Sanlu Group, has fired its chairwoman and its general manager, state-run news agency Xinhua said.

Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu said all the seriously ill children had become ill after drinking Sanlu powered milk.

Correspondents say that melamine appears to have been added to fresh milk at milk collection stations, before being passed on to Sanlu.

Xinhua also reported that four officials linked to agriculture and quality control in Hebei province, where the Sanlu group is based, had been sacked.

Since the crisis emerged, four people have been arrested, with more expected. Twenty-two others are being questioned.

Hospital in Shenyang, northeast China

Sanlu made the information about the contamination of its products public last week after its New Zealand stakeholder, Fonterra - a global supplier of dairy ingredients - informed the New Zealand government, which then told the Chinese government.

Li Changjiang, head of China's quality control watchdog, said that two companies - Yashili and Suncare - exported milk powder and they were recalling their products.

He said that melamine had also been found in a yogurt ice-bar made by Yili, one of China's biggest dairy producers, and sold in Hong Kong.

The brand has now been recalled by the Hong Kong supermarket chain Wellcome.

Mr Li, head of the state quality supervision body AQSIQ, said China would adjust its baby formula standards to allow tests for poisonous substances such as melamine.

He said tests for the substance had not been made before, because it was banned from food products.

Confidence undermined

The BBC's James Reynolds in Beijing says China is keen to try to reassure parents that it is in control of what is happening.

This scandal has undermined confidence in food safety in China and many parents are worried about what they will feed their babies, he adds.

Analysts say the incident is an embarrassing failure for China's product safety system, which was revamped after a spate of international recalls and warnings last year over a range of goods.

Meanwhile, rising public anger, expressed on China's active internet forums, is prompting reports of a crackdown by the government on reporting of the scandal.


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SEE ALSO
Anger over China milk scandal
17 Sep 08 |  Have Your Say
Toxic milk toll rockets in China
15 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific
China investigates baby formula
11 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific
China jails fake milk sellers
05 Aug 04 |  Asia-Pacific
China 'fake milk' scandal deepens
22 Apr 04 |  Asia-Pacific
China babies die 'from fake milk'
20 Apr 04 |  Asia-Pacific

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
ABC Online Concerned parents flood Chinese hospitals as milk crisis widens - 1 hr ago
Guardian Unlimited Police make more arrests in baby milk scandal in China - 1 hr ago
Boston GlobeTainted formula sickens thousands - 1 hr ago
Al Jazeera China cracks down over milk scandal - 2 hrs ago
Sydney Morning Herald Fourth death reported in China milk scandal: govt - 3 hrs ago
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