x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Tainted milk in Saudi prompts UAE testing

Suspect food products will be tested further here after health officials in Saudi Arabia said they identified a powdered milk that contained harmful levels of melamine.

ABU DHABI // Suspect food products will be tested further here after health officials in Saudi Arabia said they identified a powdered milk imported from China that contained harmful levels of an industrial chemical. In what appears to be the first case of the tainted products to appear in the Middle East, the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) claimed it found harmful levels of melamine in Nesvita Pro-Bones Low Fat powder.

Nestlé, which makes the powder, has said none of its products are tainted but agreed to withdraw them from UAE markets in October. In September, traces of melamine were found in a number of powdered-milk products produced in China. Melamine is an industrial chemical usually used in the manufacture of plastics, but it was mixed into watered-down Chinese milk to give the impression of higher protein content.

The Chinese ministry of health reports that about 294,000 children have been affected and six babies have died. The SFDA issued its public warning yesterday, singling out products they found to have a "high concentration" of melamine. Rashid al Shuraiqi, director of the ADFCA, said the authority had already been testing Chinese dairy products routinely but would step up their efforts in light of the Saudi warning.

"We will follow this up," he said, "and make sure that there is nothing in our market that contains this." Nestlé denied that its powdered milk produced in China posed a health risk. The first product to be identified by health officials in Saudi was the 400-gram pack of Nesvita Pro-Bones Low Fat, which was produced in China on May 6. Three other batches of the same powdered milk followed, one 1,800-gram pack and two 900-gram packs. Those were made on Nov 19 of last year and on Feb 25, respectively. The UAE has replaced the products it pulled from shelves with a brand that is produced in the Philippines.

The Saudi inspectors also found melamine in a wafer chocolate bar produced by the Malaysian firm Apollo Food. The Apollo Chocolate Wafer Cream bar was produced on June 5. A survey of stores yesterday could not find it on sale in the UAE. According to the SFDA website, the authority tested 52 milk products. The contamination scandal began in September when a number of Chinese children concentrated in one area were diagnosed with kidney stones. The ministry of health in China said 51,900 children were admitted to hospital for treatment, but maintains that most are in better health and the worst of the crisis is over.

Countries across the world have recalled certain products made with the contaminated milk. Big names including the UK-based Cadbury acknowledged that traces of the chemical were found in one of their chocolate products. munderwood@thenational.ae