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EU Seeks Explanation on Widening China Dairy Scandal

The European Union and the US are seeking an explanation from China over the unfolding toxic milk powder scandal that has led to the deaths of four infants and illness in some 6,000 more.

A nurse takes care of a sickened child with kidney stones at Hebei People's Hospital

Thousands of parents have crowded hospitals and demanded answers from government

Fears over the scandal were heightened last week when a Chinese government quality watchdog revealed that 10 percent of samples from three major Chinese dairies were contaminated with the potentially fatal chemical melamine.

At the latest count, 6,244 children have become ill, four have died and 158 are suffering "acute kidney failure."

With foreign consumers warily eyeing China's manufacturing reputation amid claims of delays and cover-ups, Robert Madelin, director-general for health and consumer protection at the European Commission, told reporters in Beijing he expected an account of what went wrong.

"We are trying to establish the facts. We are discussing all aspects of this crisis bilaterally with our colleagues in China," he said.

"I know from experience that these sorts of cases, where apparently illegal or fraudulent acts lead to problems in safety, are the most difficult for any of us to deal with," added Madelin.

Madelin said the EU did not import Chinese infant milk powder, and there had been no reports of infant sickness in the bloc from other Chinese dairy products.

The scandal's protagonists

Products of China's Mengniu Dairy Company

Products of China's Mengniu Dairy Company have been pulled from Starbucks shelves

Almost one-tenth of liquid milk batches from Mengniu Dairy and Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, a Beijing Olympic Games sponsor, contained melamine, a chemical which is banned in food.

Several samples of milk from the Bright dairy group also had the substance, used in making plastics, China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine found.

Chinese media have largely kept quiet about claims that the Sanlu Group, China's biggest maker of infant milk powder, concealed the poisonings from the public and senior authorities during the Beijing Olympics in August.

Starbucks pulls questionable milk

Coffee chain Starbucks said its 300-plus cafes in mainland China had pulled milk supplies by Mengniu as a precautionary step, but that no employees or customers had fallen ill from the milk.

In Singapore, the government food watchdog advised retailers to pull Yili yoghurt ice bars from their shelves.

China is vowing to punish errant businesses and officials and there have already been dismissals, detentions and arrests linked to Sanlu, 43-percent of which is owned by New Zealand diary giant Fonterra.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Monday that Chinese officials acted last week only after her government pressed Beijing.

EU , US target product safety

Workers make leather shoes at a shoe factory in Yancheng in east China's Jiangsu province

The EU and US want to increase awareness of their safety regulations

Events surrounding the dairy scandal come as EU and US consumer protection officials pledged Friday to step up efforts to ensure product safety in China.

The new product safety initiative aims to increase awareness among Chinese manufacturers of consumer safety regulations in the US and Europe.

The initiative, however, was directed at toys, clothes and electrical products and did not address the milk powder scandal in particular.

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