10/03/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Chinese restaurants in crisis over milk scandal

Melamine has been found at a Chinese restaurant in Austria, and in products sold in Thailand, the Philippines, Laos. Few are listening to Beijing, which now says that its milk is safe. Dispute between Taiwan government and Nestlé.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - China now says that its milk is safe. But in the meantime, melamine has been found in milk exported to the Philippines, and even at a Chinese restaurant near Vienna. A dispute is underway in Taiwan, between the government and the multinational company Nestlé.

In Beijing, the general administration for the supervision of quality, inspection, and quarantine (ASQIQ) communicated yesterday that in the most recent analyses, no melamine has been found in milk, yogurt, and other products issued after September 14 by the companies most involved in the scandal, like Yili, Mengniu, Bright Dairy, and Sanlu. Beijing says that many recalled products can be sold again, although it promises that the export of products in which contamination had been found will be suspended until it can be to verify that they are safe. Newly appointed ASQIQ president Wang Yong has visited a Mengniu factory, where he selected and drank from a carton of milk.

But these statements are being met with skepticism outside of the country, after many Chinese dairy products have been found to be adulterated, in spite of initial assurances to the contrary; after it was shown that there were no effective quality controls in the country; after just two days ago melamine was found in 11.7% of products tested, with 37 major companies involved.

Filipino health secretary Francisco Duarte revealed today that "two brands of [Chinese] milk have been found to be contaminated" with melamine. The country has a strict ban on Chinese milk (in the photo, an inspection) and shops that sell it have even been closed.

Thailand's Dutch Mill Group, a leader in the dairy sector, has announced that it will send back 122 tons of Chinese powdered milk, although they have not been found to contain dangerous quantities of melamine. Famous products in the country have been found to be contaminated, like M&Ms and Snickers from Mars, Oreo cookies from Kraft, and Dove milk chocolate bars.

Today, melamine was found in fruit smoothies at a Chinese restaurant in Graz, Austria. The ingredients came from a Chinese food store in Vienna. Although results were negative in 183 other tests on Chinese products all over Austria, distrust of Chinese restaurants is spreading in Europe and the United States. In recent days, the substance was found in White Rabbit candies sold in Stuttgart, Germany and in New Zealand. In Japan, it has been found in Macau Egg Tarts.

Melamine has also been found in Chinese powdered milk in Laos. Melamine is rich in nitrogen, and is widely used in plastic production. When added to food, it makes it seem high in protein, but it is harmful for human consumption. In China, it has caused kidney problems in at least 53,000 infants (the official number, believed to be much higher), 13,000 of whom have been hospitalized, while at least four have died.

Meanwhile, the health department in Taiwan has confirmed a ban on six Nestlé products containing melamine, although in quantities that it calls "not harmful". The Geneva-based Company responds that it "fails to understand why the authorities are asking Nestlé to temporarily delist these products, which by their own admission are absolutely safe by any recognised international standards". Nestlé Taiwan complains that the decision will cost it at least one billion Taiwanese dollars (about 22.4 million euros).

Various countries ban the substance in different quantities, and yesterday Taiwan called for an international conference to adopt common standards. The island uses large quantities of Chinese dairy products, and the milk scandal has caused serious damage to the economy, but has also revived domestic disputes. The pro-Chinese Kuomintang party, now in power, is accused by the Democratic Progressive party of not acting fast enough. Health minister Lin Fang-yue has resigned over the affair, and has been replaced by Yeh Ching-chuan. Chinese milk products and their derivatives are now banned.

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