New Zealand dairy giant presses China on contaminated baby formula

Wellington - New Zealand's giant dairy farmer cooperative said Sunday it was seeking a meeting with the Chinese government to discuss contaminated baby formula, sold by a company it partly owns which has reportedly made at least 432 infants ill.

The powder, made by the SanLu Group, which is 43 per cent owned by Fonterra, is contaminated with melamine, a toxin found in fertilizers and cleaning products, the state-owned Xinhua news agency reported.

All the sick babies have developed kidney stones and officials said one death had been reported.

In Beijing, state news agency Xinhua reported the Chinese market watchdog ordered "timely" and "thorough" inspections.

All Sanlu brand baby milk powder manufactured before August 6 should be immediately taken off shelf, said the State Administration for Industry and Commerce in an urgent notice issued Saturday night.

The Sanlu Group, a leading Chinese dairy producer based in northern Hebei Province, admitted Friday that it had found some of its baby milk powder products were contaminated with melamine, a chemical raw material.

The provincial government has ordered a halt of production of the Sanlu Group.

A total of 78 people have been questioned over the scandal and 19 detained on suspicion of breaking food safety laws, Radio New Zealand reported.

A Fonterra spokesman said it pushed for a full product recall as soon as it was advised of the issue last month.

Fonterra is the world's biggest single exporter of dairy products, selling consumer goods and food industry ingredients to 140 countries. Industry observers said it would be desperate to see the issue settled before it affects sales in other countries.

China's food industry has been rocked by a number of scandals in recent years, undermining consumer trust in Chinese food exports and increasing pressure from countries like the United States and Japan to improve food standards.

In 2007, toxic pet food and melamine-contaminated meat or wheat protein was traced to Chinese producers, and a food scare in Japan in early 2008 involved frozen dumplings imported from China. (dpa)