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Tainted Chinese Milk Has Now Hospitalized Over 10,000 Children

GILLIAN WONG   10/ 9/08 05:03 PM ET   AP

Milk

BEIJING — More than 10,000 children remain hospitalized in China's tainted milk scandal, Chinese health officials revealed, while the country defended its dairy products Thursday at a meeting of the World Trade Organization.

The Health Ministry said in a statement on its Web site Wednesday that 10,666 children were still in hospitals after drinking milk contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical that can cause kidney stones and lead to 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 other children 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 than 30 countries restricting Chinese dairy imports and in some cases all Chinese food products.

At a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Chinese officials sought to limit the damage Thursday, saying Beijing was making enormous efforts to deal with the problem and maintaining no new cases of contamination had been detected since Sept. 20.

The officials also contended the contamination had been accidental, contradicting a World Health Organization assessment that the chemical was added deliberately.

Dairy suppliers have been accused of adding melamine _ used in making plastics, paint and adhesives _ to watered-down milk to make it appear rich in protein. Melamine, like protein, is high in nitrogen, which is what quality tests measure.

Until this week, there had been no standards in China 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 milk, milk powder and food products that contain more than 15 percent dairy.

Levels of melamine discovered in batches of tainted milk powder have registered as much as 6,196 parts per million.

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.

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.

China's Asian neighbors, meanwhile, continued to pull Chinese-made products after tests revealed melamine.

Singapore's food safety agency said Thursday it found traces of melamine in samples of blueberry and chocolate flavored Cadbury Choclairs and Panda Dairy-brand Whole Milk Powder imported from China. And in Hong Kong, authorities said melamine had been found in EDO Pack Almond Cacao Biscuit Sticks produced by Hong Kong company EDO Trading Co.

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Associated Press writer Alex Kennedy in Singapore contributed to this report.

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Filed by Dan Duray  |