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EU plans China food products ban

Move to ban child food products comes after tainted milk crisis sickens 53,000 babies and kills four.

The European Commission today said it planned a ban on certain Chinese food products for children following a milk contamination scandal in China. "The measures will ... impose an explicit total ban on all products originating from China for infants and young children containing any percentage of milk," a commission spokeswoman said. The measure was intended "to ensure that such products are not imported in any form," she added. All imports of products containing more than 50 percent of milk powder will have to be tested under the new rules due to come into force tomorrow after discussions among the EU's 27 member nations. The announcement came as China scrambled to salvage its reputation after tainted milk sickened 53,000 babies and killed four, as UN agencies deplored attempts by implicated dairy firms to deceive the public. The government has set up working groups in nearly every single province, and has embarked on a sweeping drive to set up a series of new food testing centres and replace outdated equipment, officials said. "Our quality inspection authorities are required to establish nearly 400 product testing centres within the next two years, and 80 of these will be food testing centres," said Hou Linglin, a senior official at the quality watchdog.

Mr Hou was speaking at a food safety conference in Beijing after China and many of its trading partners were rattled by revelations that milk powder and other Chinese-made dairy products contained melamine. Melamine is mainly used for making plastic but when added to milk, the toxic chemical can make it appear richer in protein. "Based on what we've seen in the press I would say this looks like an attempt to deceive the public by milk producers who seem to be trying to water down their milk," said Dale Rutstein, a Beijing-based spokesman for UNICEF, the UN's children agency.

UNICEF earlier issued a statement with the World Health Organisation, saying it had "observed with great sadness and concern the unfolding story of tainted infant formula produced by Sanlu and other companies." The milk crisis continues to escalate beyond the mainland with a fifth child in Hong Kong falling ill with kidney stones. Elsewhere animals also appear affected. Two orangutans and a lion cub at the Hangzhou Safari Park near Shanghai have kidney stones after being fed milk powder for more than a year, said Zhang Xu, a veterinarian with the Hangzhou Zhangxu Animal Hospital.

Meanwhile, Myanmar's authorities said it would destroy 16 metric tons of powdered milk made by one of 22 Chinese dairy companies found to have produced chemically tainted products, a newspaper said. An official at Myanmar's Food and Drug Administration said the milk powder was worth about US$50,000 and would be destroyed on Sept 30, according to the Myanmar-language private paper. *AFP and AP

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