25 Sep 2008

Gorillas suspected of milk powder poisoning

10:15 pm on 25 September 2008

Two gorillas are suspected of becoming the latest victims of China's tainted milk-powder health scandal, showing the early signs of kidney stones, local media reported on Thursday.

The gorillas, both from Hangzhou Wildlife World in eastern Zhejiang province and aged one and three, had been diagnosed with crystallisation in their urine, according to a report on the website of the Hangzhou newspaper.

Both had been fed with milk powder made by Sanlu Group, at the heart of the scandal in which four babies have died and more than 54,000 have fallen ill with kidney stones.

Nearly 13,000 children have been hospitalised in China and four have been made ill in Hong Kong after drinking tainted milk.

The company, which is 43% owned by New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, has said the infants became sick after drinking milk contaminated by melamine, a chemical compound used in making plastics and added to cheat nutrition tests. The chemical is used in pesticides and in making plastics.

"The crystallisation now is very small, but it will grow bigger and then block the urine," Zhang Xu, a doctor from the animal hospital where the two gorillas were being treated, was quoted as saying. "No visible stones have been found so far."

Kidney stones are small, solid masses that form when salts or minerals normally found in urine crystallise inside the kidney.

If they become large enough, they can move out of the kidney, cause infection and lead to permanent kidney damage.

More countries ban Chinese goods

The World Health Organisation and UNICEF said the contaminated milk powder scandal was "deplorable" as more countries in Asia and Europe banned imports of Chinese milk products.

But the agencies said Beijing's plan to overhaul its food safety would help to prevent a recurrence. They also urged mothers to breast feed their infants, a need further underscored by "alarming examples" of tainted formula scandals in China and around the world.

While the scandal has triggered arrests and official sackings in China, the repercussions began to spread overseas. Taiwan Health Minister Lin Fang-yue tendered his resignation after 25 tonnes of potentially tainted milk powder were imported to the island, the Taiwanese Central News Agency reported.

China's poor track record in coming clean on past product safety scandals including toys, toothpaste, pharmaceutical and pet food ingredients has seriously dented the country's credibility.

India became the largest and most populous country to announce a ban on Chinese milk and milk products on Thursday, with the ban to remain in force for three months. Vietnam and Nepal halted sales of all Chinese milk products and would now increase testing of such imports.

South Korea is recalling products with melamine after the Korea Food and Drug Administration found tainted rice cookies made for a South Korean confectionary by one of its divisions in China. Singapore said it had tested melamine in five more products, including two Dutch Lady fruit-flavoured milk products.

Global coffee giant Starbucks said it had started using fresh milk from a Hong Kong milk supplier in 55 of its stores in southern China, ditching its usual China supplier.

In Europe, France banned all food items containing Chinese milk products. The European Food Safety Authority is expected to announce this week whether processed items containing milk products from China pose a risk.

In the latest update by China's quality control agency on its website it said 235 samples of carton milk and drinking yoghurt produced since 14 September and sold across the country had shown no signs of melamine.