People wait to get their babies checked for kidney stones in a hospital in Fuyang in central China's Anhui province Tuesday Sept. 23, 2008. Tainted baby formula has sickened nearly 53,000 Chinese infants and has already cost the head of the country's food safety watchdog his job. Four deaths have been blamed on the contaminated milk powder. (AP Photo) ** CHINA OUT **
China on Wednesday pledged strong action in dealing with the widening scandal over tainted milk and issued an apology to consumers in Taiwan as an increasing number of countries boosted testing of Chinese food imports.
Fears overseas were growing that compromised ingredients may have contaminated other Chinese-made products such as cookies and chocolate bars. Adulterated baby milk powder has sickened about 54,000 Chinese babies and has been blamed for the deaths of four infants.
The government has been scrambling to show it is tackling the problem, including announcing high-profile arrests and forced resignations of officials.
In a speech in New York, where he is attending the U.N. General Assembly, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the government "is taking resolute measures to ensure product quality."
Authorities in Taiwan and Indonesia Wednesday ordered China-made products with milk ingredients off store shelves. Chinese dairy imports have been banned in at least a dozen countries - mostly in Asia - in response to the scandal over milk products contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine.
Melamine, used to make plastics and fertilizer, has been found in infant formula and other milk products from 22 Chinese dairy companies. Suppliers trying to cut costs are believed to have added it to watered-down milk because its high nitrogen content masks the resulting protein deficiency.
Babies who took the tainted formula have suffered from kidney stones.
In Taiwan, authorities said all China-made milk products and vegetable-based proteins had to be tested before they can go back on sale.
The checks on the vegetable-based proteins show the concern over how the problem is spreading.
Taiwanese officials say at least seven Taiwanese companies have imported contaminated proteins from China. They say the proteins are made from corn or other vegetables but may be mixed with tainted milk products to improve their flavor.
China on Wednesday apologized to Taiwanese consumers.
"We feel extremely painful about the damage that the milk powder brought to people in Taiwan. Our government attaches great importance to it and is taking a series of measures to minimize the damage and influence," said Li Weiyi, a spokesman for the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office.
Indonesia was the latest to ban Chinese dairy imports. The government distributed a list of 28 products that it said may contain tainted Chinese milk, including Oreo cookies, Snickers bars and M&M chocolate candies.
China's deeply shaken dairy industry has also pledged to reform itself, as a group of 316 Chinese milk producers and retailers issued a joint statement promising to keep the dairy industry clean, take responsibility for product quality and take concrete action to satisfy consumers, state media reported.
But Sanlu Group Co. - the dairy at the center of the scandal - won't recover from the damage it has suffered, its New Zealand partner said Wednesday as it slashed the value of its holding in the company.
The Chinese government took control of Sanlu Group Co., 43 percent of which is owned by New Zealand's Fonterra Cooperative, and shut it down, Fonterra Chief Executive Andrew Ferrier said at a briefing. Sanlu is based in northern China's Hebei province.
"Sanlu has been damaged very badly by this tragedy," Ferrier told reporters as he announced Fonterra's annual results. "The brand cannot be reconstructed."
Early this week, China Central Television reported that an investigation by the State Council, China's Cabinet, found that Sanlu had received complaints about its infant formula as early as December 2007. The dairy company discovered melamine in its milk powder in June but did not report it to government officials until Aug. 2, it said.
Associated Press writer Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.
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