China clears Groupe Danone's unit on melamine investigation; says unapproved additive used by Mengniu Dairy Group is safe but illegal

BEIJING , February 16, 2009 () – Chinese quality investigators have found that milk products from a unit of France's Groupe Danone SA are melamine-free, and also said an unapproved additive used by one of China's largest dairies is safe but was used illegally.

The separate investigations into the products of Danone's Dumex Baby Food Co. Ltd. and Mengniu Dairy Group Co. underscore the government's chronic problems with policing product quality. Melamine-contaminated milk was linked to the deaths of at least six Chinese babies and illnesses of nearly 300,000 others last year.

In a statement released over the weekend, the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision said it had tested 932 batches dairy products produced by the Dumex subsidiary since mid-September "and all are melamine-free."

It also said no melamine, an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of plastics and fertilizer, was found in more than 1,700 batches produced before mid-September, when the dairy scandal broke.

"Our valued consumers can continue to use our product with confidence," Dumex said in a statement. "Now more than ever, we remain committed to providing products of the highest quality to our loyal consumers."

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said a panel of experts had reviewed OMP, a milk protein added by Mengniu to its premium Telunsu line and declared that "consumption ... is not hazardous to health."

However, the ministry said that OMP is not a government-approved additive and Mengniu "promoted its function in an exaggerated manner."

"Law enforcement and inspection departments will further deal with the illegal actions of Mengniu," the ministry said, without giving any details.

It said the company had stopped using OMP and was in the process of getting official approval.

Telephones were not answered at Mengniu's media department on Monday.

Last year's milk scandal, over nitrogen-rich melamine that was added to milk to fool protein tests, was China's worst food contamination crisis. It also exposed loose controls over large companies like Mengniu and Yili Industrial Group Co., whose products were recalled.

Both companies had been exempt from government inspections under waivers given to companies deemed to have proper quality controls, which have since been scrapped.

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