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5,800 Chinese babies hospitalized on tainted milk

October 15, 2008

BEIJING (AP) Nearly 6,000 Chinese babies remain hospitalized with kidney problems resulting from milk powder adulterated with the industrial chemical melamine, the Health Ministry said.

Six of the children were in serious condition, the ministry said in a statement posted on its Web site late Wednesday.

The government has been trying to contain the fallout after baby formula contaminated with melamine was blamed for causing the deaths of four infants and sickening about 54,000 other children in mainland China.

In Hong Kong, the government said Wednesday another child had been found with kidney stones after drinking Chinese-made tainted milk, the eighth such case in the territory.

The 8-year-old boy was hospitalized after being diagnosed with a stone in his right kidney, the Department of Health said. The boy had been drinking three packs of pure milk produced by a Chinese dairy each week since 2003, authorities said.

The tainted milk scandal has sparked global concern about Chinese food imports, with more than 30 countries restricting Chinese dairy products, and in some cases all Chinese food imports.

China's iconic White Rabbit candy returned to the shelves in Shanghai on Wednesday, but company officials said overseas sales would resume only later, the Shanghai Daily reported. The candy was pulled from shelves in the U.S., Europe and Asia following tests that found it contained melamine.

A company official said they were no longer using milk from companies on the blacklist compiled by China's food quality authority.

China sought to reassure Taiwanese consumers that its dairy products were safe, saying Wednesday that mainland authorities were very concerned about the scandal.

"We have taken a serious approach," Yang said. "China has launched a thorough investigation into this issue to help restore the trust of Taiwanese consumers."

After China's melamine tainting scandal broke last month, Taiwanese authorities launched a sweeping inspection of milk powders and related food items. More than 160 products containing Chinese milk and vegetable-based proteins have been removed from stores.

Taiwanese and Chinese food safety authorities have agreed to set up a hot line to inform each other of food safety emergencies.

The Chinese milk scare and related economic losses have led to renewed Taiwanese animosity toward rival China. The two sides split amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing still claims the island as a part of its territory.

Chinese authorities have blamed dairy suppliers for the food safety scandal that began last month, saying they added melamine to watered-down milk to fool quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein.

Melamine, a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers, can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it and, in extreme cases, lead to life-threatening kidney failure. Infants are particularly susceptible.

Associated Press writer Dikky Sinn in Hong Kong and Cara Anna in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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