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Page last updated at 04:53 GMT, Saturday, 20 September 2008 05:53 UK

'All-out effort' for China babies

Chinese mothers in Hangzhou, 19/09
Panicked parents have flocked to hospitals with their children

Chinese officials have ordered an all-out effort to save babies made ill by contaminated milk products.

A cabinet statement said all affected children should get free check-ups and treatment and called for more screening in remote areas, state media reported.

Four children have died and more than 6,000 are ill owing to milk products contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in the manufacturing of plastics.

President Hu Jintao has accused some officials of ignoring public opinion.

Speaking generally on issues of work and food safety, Mr Hu did not refer directly to the milk scandal, but he urged the Communist Party to learn "painful lessons" from "recent accidents".

"Some officials have ignored public opinion and turned a blind eye to people's hardships, and even major issues that concern the lives of the masses of people," China Daily quoted him as saying.

"Only when we strive to solve the pressing problems facing our officials and always put people first... can the party lead the people to achieve a moderately well-off society."

Import bans

Panicked parents have crowded hospitals and demanded redress since last week's announcement that babies had developed kidney stones after drinking milk made from the contaminated powder.

Of those children made sick, more than 150 are said to have acute kidney failure.

Cabinet officials ordered free examinations and treatment and said screening efforts should be beefed-up in the countryside and remote areas, Xinhua news agency reported.

Farmers in Hebei province
Farmers are now selling fresh cow's milk on the street in some areas

The contamination was thought to be restricted to powdered milk, but on Friday inspectors confirmed that 10% of liquid milk from three of China's dairies was also tainted with melamine.

Officials named the companies as Mengniu Dairy Group, Yili Industrial Group and Bright Dairy.

Despite assurances that no-one had fallen ill from drinking liquid milk, the news prompted shop owners in China and elsewhere to clear their shelves.

The issue has provoked a worldwide reaction - with both the EU and US asking for an explanation, and Singapore and Malaysia banning Chinese milk imports.

The scandal broke last week after the Sanlu Group, China's biggest maker of milk powder, confirmed some of its products were contaminated with melamine.

Suppliers are suspected of watering down the milk product, then adding melamine to boost its nitrogen content, allowing it to pass protein quality-control tests.

Chinese police have arrested 18 people in connection with the scandal.

Food production in the country has come under scrutiny in recent years - with health scares connected with products ranging from toothpaste to dumplings.


SEE ALSO
Mass recall of China milk produce
19 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific
China tainted milk scandal widens
19 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Bitter taste over China baby milk
17 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Hong Kong recalls dairy products
18 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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