BEIJING (AP) — More than 10,000 children remained hospitalized after being sickened in China's tainted milk scandal, eight of whom were in serious condition, officials said.
The Health Ministry said in a statement on its Web site Wednesday that 10,666 children were in hospitals after drinking milk powder contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, which can lead to kidney stones and possibly life-threatening kidney failure.
No new deaths have been recorded, it said. The scandal has so far been blamed for the deaths of four babies and the sickening of about 54,000 others in China.
But the effects of the scandal continue to be felt, forcing the government to deal with festering health and public relations issues. China's food exports have increasingly suffered, with more nations issuing import bans.
Singapore's food safety agency said Thursday it found traces of melamine in three more Chinese-made products. The authority said the chemical was detected in samples of blueberry and chocolate flavored Cadbury Choclairs and Panda Dairy-brand Whole Milk Powder imported from China.
Also on Thursday, Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety said in a statement it found melamine in EDO Pack Almond Cacao Biscuit Sticks produced by Hong Kong company EDO Trading Co.
Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said at a meeting of health ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila that member nations should strengthen regulations to shield people from potentially harmful imports.
Dairy suppliers have been accused of adding melamine — used in products including plastics, paint and adhesives — to watered-down milk to make the product appear rich in protein and fool quality control tests.
There had been no standards for the amount of the chemical allowed in food products.
Under Health Ministry guidelines released Wednesday, melamine is now limited to one part per million for infant formula and 2.5 parts per million for liquid milk, milk powder and food products that contain more than 15 percent milk.
Wang Xuening, a ministry official, acknowledged that small amounts of melamine can leech from the environment and packaging into milk and other foods, but said deliberate tainting was forbidden.
Levels of melamine discovered in batches of milk powder recently registered as much as 6,196 parts per million.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says its experts have concluded that eating 2.5 parts per million of melamine — a minuscule amount — would not raise health risks, even if a person ate food every day that contained it.
Guidelines in Hong Kong and New Zealand say melamine in food products is considered safe at 2.5 parts per million or less, though Hong Kong has lowered the level for children under 3 and pregnant or lactating women to one part per million.
China's food exports have suffered significantly from the scandal, with more than 30 countries restricting Chinese dairy products, and in some cases all Chinese food exports.
The Finance Ministry said Thursday the government has allocated $44 million to help dairy farmers who have been hurt by declining demand for milk. Many farmers have been tossing out raw milk as they are squeezed by feed costs they cannot recoup.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, and Alex Kennedy in Singapore contributed to this report.