EU to assess risk of tainted milk

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EU Commission and food agency met in France to address the possibility of tainted Chinese milk products entering Europe.

23 September 2008
ANNECY -- The EU Commission on Monday asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to "urgently assess possible public health risks" of China's tainted milk scandal to consumers.

"There is no question of having milk products from China in the EU because we have banned all imports some years ago", EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said at a meeting of European farm ministers in Annecy, in eastern France.

"But in case they have used some milk for the production of biscuits or other products we have asked EFSA to give us an opinion, whether this... can have any effect on the health of the people", she added.

The findings should be available on Wednesday or Thursday, said EFSA director-general Catherine Geslain-Laneelle.

No one knows yet if products containing traces of Chinese milk could find their way to Europe, she said, adding that some might be found for sale in "little Chinese shops".

The Chinese government announced Monday that up to 53,000 children had been hospitalised after drinking milk that was contaminated by the industrial chemical melamine.

Most had "basically recovered" after developing kidney stones, the main symptom of drinking the tainted milk, but 12,892 of them remained in hospital, a Chinese health ministry official said.

Vassiliou asked the Chinese authorities to introduce "more strict controls, not only for exports but also for local consumption. Because we already have children dying".

French agriculture minister Michel Barnier said earlier that Europe must increase checks on food imports in response to the Chinese milk scare.

Barnier, whose country holds the European Union's rotating presidency, said the Chinese milk problem "supports me in defending a memorandum ... on stepping up safety controls of imports to Europe".

He said that the aim was to "protect consumers, harmonise control methods and rules and also make sure that products entering Europe respect the same norms that we put on our producers".

The European Union imposed an embargo on Chinese dairy products in 2002, concerned with their poor industry controls.

Despite the ban, the European Commission asked EU nations to be aware of any Chinese milk products entering the region, urging member states to increase border controls.

[AFP / Expatica]

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