February 17, 2009

China exonerates Danone of melamine-tainted milk scandal

Milk products from a unit of France's Groupe Danone SA has been declared melamine-free by Chinese quality investigators although an unapproved and illegally used but safe additive was also detected.


The investigations into the products of Danone's Dumex Baby Food Co. Ltd. and Mengniu Dairy Group Co. highlight the government's difficulties in regulating product quality. Melamine-tainted milk was linked to the deaths of at least six Chinese babies and nearly 300,000 others fell ill last year.


Since mid-September, Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision had tested 932 batches of dairy products produced by the Dumex subsidiary and it said all are melamine-free.


The bureau also mentioned no melamine -- an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of plastics and fertilizer -- was found in more than 1,700 batches produced before mid-September, when the dairy scandal erupted.


Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said a panel of experts had reviewed the use of osteoblast milk protein, or OMP, added by Mengniu to one of its premium milk brands and declared that its "consumption ... is not hazardous to health."


However, the ministry stated that the additive is not approved by the government and Mengniu "promoted its function in an exaggerated manner."


The company had stopped using OMP and was in the process of getting official approval, the ministry added.


China experienced its worst food contamination crisis last year as nitrogen-rich melamine was added to milk to deceive protein tests. It also uncovered slack regulations over large companies like Mengniu and Yili Industrial Group Co., whose products were recalled.


Both companies were exempted from government inspections under waivers given to companies deemed to have proper quality controls, which have since been discarded.

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