From China:

Formula seen causing sexual prematurity

From Global Times:

Quintuplets sit in a row with infant formula produced by Syrutra in hand in this 2008 file photo. Photo: IC

A Chinese maker of infant formula is being accused of causing sexual prematurity in a number of months-old babies - the latest food-safety scare involving formula products in the country.

Qingdao-based Synutra International, a Chinese infant-formula company, denied the accusations Saturday, defending itself and the safety of its products by saying in an online statement that they say are free of hormones. "We demand an official quality examination," the statement said.

Public health concern has mounted in the wake of a report Thursday by the Beijing-based Health Times that said three young babies from central Hubei Province, aged 4, 9 and 15 months, were found to be showing symptoms of breast development and abnormal levels of female hormones.

Born in Hankou, Hanyang and Wuchang in Hubei, the three girls were found to have been fed baby-formula products tagged with the same lot number, produced by Synutra International, prompting parents to point fingers at one of the leading makers of powdered baby formula in China, the paper said.

Deng Xiaoyun, the mother of a 1-year-old girl, told the Global Times by phone that her daughter was diagnosed at the Wuhan Children’s Hospital as having developed hormone-triggered sexual prematurity.

She said her daughter began showing symptoms of prematurity a month ago, when her daughter’s breast began to grow as large as those of a 12-year-old girl in her neighborhood.

"At first, I thought it was a tumor. But hospital doctors preliminarily diagnosed it as symptom of sexual prematurity caused by hormones, a diagnosis backed by the results of an examination carried out by the Hubei Women and Children’s Health," she said.

"I don’t breastfeed my daughter. She lives on the Synutra milk power, which must be the culprit of her current condition," Deng said.

"The company’s agents contacted me last month to offer 2,000 yuan ($294) as a settlement in the matter. I refused to accept the offer. Even if it was 10 times as much compensation, I won’t consider accepting it," Deng said.

Yao Hui, with the endocrinology department at Wuhan Children’s Hospital, told the Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post that it is rare for a baby girl under 2 to be diagnosed as "precocious."

"Authorities ought to test the samples of the dairy maker’s products to confirm whether sex hormones are contained in the milk powder," he told the paper.

Babies with breasts

The Health Times said it had learned from parents that a 10-month-old baby girl in Fengxin county, eastern Jiangxi Province, an 8-month-old girl in Linyi, eastern Shandong Province, and a 3-month-old boy in Zhanjiang in southern Guangdong Province, showed symptoms of sexual prematurity.

Official results of an examination into the suspected milk products were still pending Sunday. A staff member at the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration, who declined to be named, said the center hadn’t yet received similar complaints.

Huang Weidong, a professor specializing in food-safety supervision at China Agricultural University, said, "All dairy products made by certified manufacturers must undergo strict quality tests, including on hormone levels, and problematic products won’t be allowed to hit the market."

"But despite the strict screening of food products, some illegal manufacturers might still sell unsafe food products … to seek profits," he said.

Synutra’s suspected products were still on sale in Wuhan at discounted prices, according to Deng. An employee at a Beijing-based Wal-Mart store said by phone that the maker’s products were still on the shelves.

The domestic company said on its official website that it was among the top three makers of infant baby formula in China, and it was named as a consumer satisfaction brand in late July.

Domestic dairy companies, whose reputations plummeted in 2008 after a widely publicized scandal involving contaminated baby formula, are capable of competing only in the low-end market, as foreign-invested dairy makers monopolize the high-end market.

Zhang Lijuan, the mother of a 1.5-month-old baby boy, said breastfeeding is her primary choice, but if she has to feed her baby with infant formula, she has more confidence in foreign-invested dairy products, despite the fact that their prices are much higher than those of domestic makers.

Melamine-contaminated baby formula sickened thousands of children and killed at least six in China in 2008.

Melamine is a dangerous chemical used to make plastics, and it can be used to artificially inflate protein levels in watered-down milk.

Two years after the scandal, food-safety authorities recently seized almost 100 tons of melamine-tainted milk products, raising criticism of insufficient market supervision and fears of a re-entry of deadly baby formula into the market.

Song Shengxia, Zhao Zhijie contributed to this story