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China Milk Contamination Scandal; High Mercury Discovered In Infant Formula

Beijing: China has been hit by a new food contamination scandal as its consumer quality regulator found an "unusual amount" of mercury in baby formula produced by country's top milk producer.

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The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) said in a statement that the mercury, a metallic element that is toxic in high doses, was detected in several batches of Inner Mongolia's Yili Industrial Group, one of China's biggest dairy companies.

The administration has thus far examined samples from 715 infant formula products, covering all of the country's formula producers, the statement said.

Yili was the only company found to have products contaminated with mercury, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted the statement as saying.

The Inner Mongolia autonomous region's local consumer quality regulator has also reported "unusual" mercury content in two batches of Yili baby formulas and two samples of Yili whey powder.

The mercury levels of these products were higher than the average levels of similar products, Ma Li, deputy head of Inner Mongolia's quality inspection bureau said. Yili announced today that it started recalling the defective products yesterday.

The recall applies to "QuanYou" products that were produced between November 2011 and May 2012.

Yili said it will find the cause of the contamination and properly handle all tainted products.

The company said all of its other products were found to have normal mercury levels, according to both the company's own tests and government checks. China's dairy industry suffered a heavy blow after a scandal in 2008 in which baby formula was found to be tainted with melamine, an industrial compound used to create plastic and resin.

The tainted formula led to the deaths of six infants and sickened 300,000 children across the country.

In late December last year, products manufactured by Mengniu, another leading dairy company that is also based out of Inner Mongolia, were found to contain high levels of aflatoxin, a carcinogen.

Yili saw its profits more than double in 2011 to top 1.8 billion yuan (USD 287.3 million) due to booming sales. Shares of the company rose 1.04 per cent to 24.28 yuan per share today.

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