Beijing admits almost 300,000 infants sick from melamine-tainted milk
China’s Health Ministry releases new data. Chinese dairy and other food exports collapse in October. But new investments in the sector are taking place.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s Health Ministry has admitted that 294,000 infants have had kidney problems as a result of drinking melamine-tainted milk, acknowledging that the number of babies experiencing “urinary system abnormalities’ is six times what was originally reported.

When the scandal broke in September government sources reported that more than 53,000 children had been hospitalised with kidney stones or other kidney-related complications. At least four were reported dead. Since then the authorities had not updated its figures to avoid any major social protest.

The Health Ministry said that 51,900 children were taken to hospital, with 861 still admitted and 154 suffering from “severe” conditions. It did not however mention compensation as promised to the families.

Affected children had consumed milk powder from China’s main dairy producers, tainted with melamine, an industrial compound found in plastics and which is toxic to humans.

Tonnes of the product were pulled off the shelves as tainted Chinese dairy products became suspect around the world.

As a consequence China exported just over 1,000 tonnes of dairy products in October, down 92 per cent from a year earlier.

Last year, China's dairy industry was worth billion.

Other food exports were also affected. In Qingdao export growth fell to 1.9 in October, way down from an average of 15 per cent in the first nine months of the year.

Export growth in agricultural items from Yantai, another big port in the area, dropped from 12 per cent in September to 3.2 per cent in October.

The authorities have pledged tighter controls and there are signs of renewed interest in China’s food sector.

Private equity firm of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. announced it was spending US$ 100 million to buy a minority stake in China Mengniu Dairy, the country's largest milk producer and one of the companies involved in the melamine scandal. This should mean more funds to upgrade production and a safer product.