Chinese health inspectors have found the
chemical melamine in fresh and long-life milk sold by three leading companies,
following a scandal over tainted milk powder that has killed at least four
infants, the government said Friday.
The inspectors found melamine contamination in 24 out of 1,202 batches of liquid milk tested this week, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said on its website.
The administration said the tainted milk was from the Yili, Mengniu and Bright Dairy companies, all leading dairy-produce brands sold in supermarkets across China.
It ordered the companies to recall contaminated products, and many supermarket milk shelves in Beijing were already empty on Thursday.
The administration said the tainted liquid milk would not pose any threat to a healthy adult, but more than 6,200 infants nationwide fell ill after consuming powdered milk containing melamine.
The highest level of melamine in liquid milk was found in Bright Dairy milk, which contained 8.6 milligrams of melamine per litre.
Melamine is used as a binding agent and coating for particle, fibre and laminated board. It is also used to make fertilizer.
State media said police in the northern province of Hebei arrested 12 more people on Thursday as part of an "intensifying crackdown" on the makers and suppliers of tainted milk powder sold under the Sanlu brand.
Hebei police formally charged 18 people who sold melamine to milk producers or sold contaminated milk in the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang, the official Xinhua news agency quoted police spokesman Shi Guizhong as saying.
Shijiazhuang is the headquarters of Sanlu, which supplies nearly a fifth of China's market with an inexpensive baby formula implicated in many of the 6,200 reported cases of melamine-related illness.
Government officials said Sanlu knew about the contamination of milk powder with melamine since March but didn't order a national recall of the powder until this week.
Inspectors found melamine in 69 batches of milk powder made by 22 companies nationwide, including some from Mengniu and Yili.
Most of the babies treated in hospital had developed kidney stones and other urinary problems after consuming Sanlu milk powder for three to six months.
Apart from the four infants who died, at least 158 babies had developed "serious kidney problems," reports said, according to dpa.