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China orders US baby formula recall in milk scare

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Dumex baby formula from a batch that has been declared safe is pictured on shelves at a store in Beijing on August 5, 2013. China has ordered US pharmaceutical company Abbott to recall some products in the country over a botulism scare centred on New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, authorities said Tuesday. (AFP)

China has ordered US pharmaceutical company Abbott to recall some products in the country over a botulism scare centred on New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, authorities said Tuesday.

Two batches of Abbott's baby formula "risked having been contaminated by clostridium botulinum", the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) said in a statement.

Clostridium botulinum is a bacteria that can cause botulism, an infection that can lead to paralysis and death.

"The AQSIQ has required Abbott... to recall the relevant products to protect the health of Chinese consumers," said the statement.

It said the formula, intended for children aged between one and three, was produced by Fonterra on May 2 for a Shanghai subsidiary of Abbott.

Fonterra revealed at the weekend that a whey product used to make baby milk and soft drinks had been contaminated with the bacteria.

The company has blamed the contamination on a dirty pipe at a North Island processing plant.

Abbott said in a statement that none of its products sold in China used Fonterra's contaminated whey product, but that the two batches of formula involved were packaged on a Fonterra production line that had residues of the tainted raw material.

"Although the two batches... do not expose any heath risks, we have decided to recall the products and destroy them as a precaution for the maximum benefit of customers," it said.

The batches comprised a total of 7,181 boxes of baby milk tins, but only 112 boxes had been sold and the remainder had already been sealed, it added.

The scare has seen restrictions imposed on Fonterra products imported into China. Dumex and Karicare, both subsidiaries of French food giant Danone, issued recalls in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand.

Aside from Dumex, the other two companies affected in China, Hangzhou Wahaha and Coca-Cola's Chinese subsidiary, who used the whey in milk-based drinks, both said their products were safe but they would recall them as a precaution.

Fonterra is the world's largest dairy cooperative and New Zealand's biggest company, accounting for 89 percent of the country's milk production in 2011.

Baby formula safety is a sensitive issue in China, where consumers' distrust mounted after milk tainted with the chemical melamine left six children dead and made more than 300,000 ill in 2008.

Premier Li Keqiang pledged in March to punish safety violators and better oversee domestic milk powder production, in an effort to rebuild trust in Chinese companies.

To that end, authorities on Tuesday published a list of domestic firms allowed to produce milk powder, and solicited public feedback on a draft proposal to regulate the baby formula industry, the state news agency Xinhua said.

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