HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong has detected melamine in yet another batch of chicken eggs from mainland China, the third such find in the city in under a week, prompting the former British colony to urge Beijing to take action.
Tens of thousands of children in China have fallen ill with kidney problems in recent months and at least four have died after being fed infant formula that was later found mixed with the plastic-making industrial compound to cheat quality tests.
Subsequent tests found melamine in a variety of Chinese-made products from milk and chocolate bars to yoghurt exported around the world, including egg products in South Korea, leading to items being pulled from shop shelves.
“We have asked the mainland authorities to follow up and requested them to stop the concerned processing plant from exporting eggs and egg products to Hong Kong,” a government spokesman said.
The level of melamine found in the eggs, from central Hubei province, was 3.1 milligrams per kilogram, above the limit of 2.5 in Hong Kong. The first batch of tainted eggs, produced by Hanwei Group in the northeastern port city of Dalian, was detected over the weekend.
Problem eggs were also found in Hangzhou in eastern Zhejiang province, China’s official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday. The eggs, from China’s northern Shanxi province, contained 3.5 mg melamine in every kg.
The discovery of melamine in eggs has triggered more alarm, as it confirms what experts have long suspected — that the chemical is deely embedded in the human food chain.
Melamine and its derivatives are widely used in animal feed and pesticides in China but no one knows how harmful they can be to people if they are exposed to it over a long period of time.
Premier Wen Jiabao, at the closing of an Asia-Europe summit on Saturday, vowed China would do all it could to bring the quality of Chinese food products up to international standard. Chinese officials, buffeted by a series of food- and product-safety health scares in recent years, had already said the problem had been contained.
Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, pledged to broaden its checks on meat, vegetables and processed food last week.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc pulled Gegeda-brand eggs, which are also produced by Hanwei, from its stores in China on Tuesday.
Company public relations official Vivi Mou said the move was voluntary and eggs of other brands were still on the shelf.
Egg sales meanwhile have dropped 10 percent at the Xinfadi, one of the biggest wholesale markets in Beijing, because of the contamination scare.
“I just don’t buy eggs these days,” a resident of Dalian was quoted as saying by state media, “I doubt ones produced by other companies are safe.”