BEIJING – China's tainted milk scandal continues to expand beyond its borders as three Taiwanese children and a mother are sick with kidney stones, a Japanese confectioner's cookies are found to be contaminated and the European Union joins other countries in banning imports of baby food containing Chinese milk.
Liu Yi-lien, health chief of the Ilan County government in eastern Taiwan, says the two 3-year-old girls and a one-year-old boy all have been traveling frequently between Taiwan and China with their parents. One of the children's mothers also has kidney stones.
If a link is established between these kidney problems and melamine-tainted milk, they would be the first such cases diagnosed outside of China or its territories of Hong Kong and Macau since the contaminated milk scandal erupted this month.
However, the infants may have been consuming formula purchased in China, not Taiwan.
Four children in China have died from consuming the products contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine and more than 50,000 have been sickened.
Five other children have become ill as a result of using melamine-tainted products in the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau.
On Friday, Taiwan's incoming Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan said Taiwanese authorities will no longer specify an acceptable level of melamine in food, but instead will establish standard inspection procedures and ban any food products found to contain the chemical.
Yeh's predecessor, Lin Fang-yu, resigned Thursday after a government move to raise the acceptable level of melamine triggered a public outcry.
"We condemn the mainland companies that ignored public health in the pursuit of profits," Yeh said. "Their shoddy quality control has hampered Taiwan's food safety."
Meanwhile, Koala's March cookies made by Lotte China Foods Co., a Tokyo conglomerate, were found to be contaminated with the toxic chemical melamine. The Japanese confectioner exports cookies to the Chinese territory of Macau
Macau's government said late Thursday that they had found levels of melamine 24 times the safety limit in the cookies.
An official at Lotte (China) Investment Co. Ltd. in Shanghai said Friday that previous inspections had not shown any problems.
"The range of the inspections covered all the products sold domestically, including the Bear chocolate-filled cookies mentioned in the report. The outcome was all fine," said Guo Hongming, a legal assistant in the Lotte Shanghai's corporate planning department.
"But now that it tested positive in Macau, we find it necessary to do the inspections all over again." she said.
Hong Kong supermarkets also removed the popular Japanese brand of chocolate-filled cookies from shelves Friday.
Japan's Health and Welfare Ministry said it has suspended imports of milk and milk products from China, and added 11 Asian countries and regions to the ministry watch list requiring close inspection of possible contamination. The step is meant to prevent tainted products from entering the country, ministry official Yoshiya Nishimura said.
The countries and regions targeted for close scrutiny — South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Molaysia, India, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnamk Singapore, Myanmar, Taiwan and Hong Kong — had imported milk and milk products from China, though they have suspended them or taken safeguard measures after the crisis, Nishimura said.
Hundreds of international food companies have set up operations in China in recent years, exposing them to the country's notorious product safety problems.
The food safety crisis in China started with melamine-tainted infant formula. It has since spread to other milk products and has triggered recalls and bans on Chinese food goods around the world.
The European Union banned imports of baby food containing Chinese milk Thursday as a toxic chemical that was illegally added to China's dairy supplies turned up in candy and other Chinese-made goods that were quickly pulled from stores worldwide.
The 27-nation EU adds to the growing list of countries that have banned or recalled Chinese dairy products because of the contamination. In addition to the ban, the European Commission called for more checks on other Chinese food imports.
All European Union imports of products containing more than 15 percent of milk powder will have to be tested under the new rules due to come into force Friday.
The maker of one of China's most popular candies said Friday it had halted production because of suspected melamine contamination. White Rabbit brand creamy candies have already been pulled from shelves around Asia and in Britain.
"It's a tragedy for the Chinese food industry and a big lesson for us as it ruined the time-honored brand," Ge Junjie, a vice president Bright Foods (Group) Co. Ltd., was quoted as saying by the Shanghai Daily.
Bright Foods' subsidiary Guangshengyuan produces White Rabbit.
Ge was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency that the company was waiting for test results from the Shanghai Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.
Concern about White Rabbit candies has also spread to South America, where Surinamese health authorities ordered food markets to stop selling it as a precautionary measure.
"Up to this point, we have no indication that these candies are tainted but we did not want to take any chances," said Lesley Resida, director of public health, describing Suriname's decision as a precautionary measure.
In Taiwan, where there have been huge concerns about the safety of milk and related products imported from China, Pizza Hut said Friday it had suspended supplying cheese powder found to be contaminated by melamine.
Outside Shanghai, three zoo babies were found to have developed kidney stones after being nursed with tainted milk powder for more than a year. A lion cub and two baby orangutans were sickened after drinking infant formula made by the Sanlu Group Co., said Zhang Xu, a veterinarian with the Hangzhou Zhangxu Animal Hospital.