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Page last updated at 17:03 GMT, Friday, 26 September 2008 18:03 UK

China stops tainted sweet sales

White Rabbit sweets
The sweets were found to contain a chemical used to make plastic

A Chinese sweet maker has stopped domestic sales of one of its best-known brands after it was found to contain the industrial chemical melamine.

The company, Guanshengyuan, has already halted exports of the popular White Rabbit candy, made from milk.

It is the latest development in a spreading food safety scandal involving milk contaminated with melamine.

Traces of the chemical have also been found in Hong Kong and Japan in products containing Chinese milk.

They are among a growing number of countries which have already banned or restricted imports of Chinese products containing milk.

Four babies have died and more than 53,000 children have so far been made ill by drinking contaminated powder milk in China.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has meanwhile urged five countries to immediately recall all milk powder imported from China.

The UN issued a worldwide alert two weeks ago, but Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, Gabon and Yemen are known to have imported large amounts from two Chinese companies implicated in the scandal.

The WHO also warned that several companies had been selling the tainted milk powder without licences, making it impossible to establish where all of the affected products could be.

'Big lesson'

Guanshengyuan is a subsidiary of Bright Foods - one of the dairies at the centre of the contaminated milk scandal.

Its announcement that it was halting all sales of White Rabbit candy follows the decision to recall exports to more than 50 countries, after some of its sweets tested positive for melamine in Singapore earlier this week.

SCANDAL TIMELINE
10 Sept: 14 babies reported ill in Gansu province. Cases reported in north, east and central China
13 Sept: Sanlu Group identified as source of contaminated powder milk. Production halted, 19 arrests
15 Sept: Beijing confirms two babies have died and 1,253 are ill. Taiwan bans baby milk products
17 Sept: Third baby confirmed dead. Toll of sick infants rises to 6,200
19 Sept: Death toll rises to four. Scandal widens with melamine found in ordinary milk from three well-known dairies. Singapore and Hong Kong recall some Chinese products
22 Sept: Toll of ill babies rises to 53,000. Head of China's quality watchdog resigns. Twenty-two firms implicated in scandal.
23 Sept: Countries across Asia either test Chinese dairy products or pull them from shops
24 Sept: China's chief food inspection official says scandal is under control
26 Sept: EU bans Chinese baby food with milk traces and tests other Chinese food. Production of popular sweet White Rabbit halted after tests detect melamine

Ge Junjie, a vice-president of Bright Foods, said the firm had taken the decision to halt sales, even though the results of tests were not yet known.

"It's a tragedy for the Chinese food industry and a big lesson for us as it ruined the time-honoured brand," he was quoted by the Shanghai Daily as saying.

Both Canadian and British regulators have already asked shops to withdraw White Rabbit sweets, while the Philippines has ordered all Chinese-made dairy products to be pulled from shelves.

The Japanese health ministry said tests on products withdrawn from sale a week ago had confirmed traces of melamine.

Marudai Food Co had already withdrawn cream buns, meat buns and creamed corn crepes from supermarkets.

No health problems had been reported from customers who had eaten any of the 300,000-plus products sold, a ministry spokeswoman said.

In Hong Kong, the government said traces of the chemical were found in Chinese-made vegetable formula baby cereal from Heinz and steamed potato wasabi crackers made by Silang House.

A Europe-wide ban on all children's food containing any traces of milk imported from China came into force on Friday morning. Other Chinese food is being tested.

Officials in Brussels are emphasising that as far as they know there has been no contamination of food originating from China, the BBC's Europe correspondent Chris Mason says.

US regulators, meanwhile, have warned consumers to avoid seven instant coffee and milk tea products that were made in China.

The Food and Drug Administration said the Mr Brown products had been recalled by King Car Food Industrial Co Ltd "due to possible contamination with melamine".

Peak reached?

The scandal came to light earlier this month when baby milk powder from the Sanlu Group was found to contain the industrial chemical melamine.

We might be starting to see the end of it, even if I don't think we are yet at that level
Hans Troedsson
World Health Organization, China

Since then, at least 22 other companies have been implicated - and milk products made by the Yili, Mengniu and Bright Foods groups have been recalled both at home and abroad.

On Friday, the World Health Organisation's China representative said the scandal may have peaked, but warned there could be more deaths.

"We might be starting to see the end of it, even if I don't think we are yet at that level, because there is now vigorous testing, not only in China, but in other countries," said Hans Troedsson.

Melamine is used in making plastics and is high in nitrogen, which makes products appear to have a higher protein content.

Health experts say that ingesting small amounts does no harm but sustained use can cause kidney stones and renal failure, especially among the young.

Map




SEE ALSO
Animals sick from Chinese milk
25 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific
EU limits imported Chinese food
25 Sep 08 |  Europe
China milk scare 'under control'
24 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Chinese milk fears spread in Asia
23 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific
China quality chief resigns over milk
22 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Bitter taste over China baby milk
17 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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