A top Chinese dairy company said Friday it is recalling some of its baby formula products after it found high levels of mercury—a highly toxic substance if ingested—in its products.
The Yili Industrial Group, based in the territory of Inner Mongolia and one of the largest dairy product producers in China, said it recalled the formula after a watchdog found “abnormal amounts” of mercury, according to a statement on the company’s website.
“Excessive mercury was found in Yili’s Quanyou milk powder products by a Chinese food safety watchdog,” the company said. “After an inspection, Yili recalled the related products to avoid risks.”
The company said the affected products are batches of the Quanyou infant formula made between November 2011 and May 2012. It said other products were not affected in the recall.
The company stated that China “has no standards” on the limits for the amount of mercury contained in milk powder.
Wang Dingmian, a former official with the Guangdong Dairy Association, disputed that claim, saying China permits no more than 0.01 milligrams of mercury per kilogram in raw milk.
“It is inevitable that mercury may pollute milk products via air, water, soil, and even during the process of packing. Therefore, limited standards of mercury are also needed to set up targeting for milk powder as soon as possible,” Wang was quoted as saying by the state-run China Daily.
Zhang Shaoru, who works with the Wu-Mart in Beijing, said the Quanyou products, which are cheaper than other Yili milk products, sold well in the past.
“We received a notice from Yili to pull its products from its Quanyou series from the shelves about two months ago, but I do not know the reason,” she told the Daily.
According to the Shanghai Daily newspaper, Yili’s Quanyou products are still available in some supermarkets in China as well as the country’s largest online shopping portal, Taobao.
Wu Guangchi, a professor of child nutrition with the Capital Institute of Pediatrics, said mercury is usually traced back to “environmental pollution,” and particularly, “nearby industrial and mining regions,” according to the China Daily.
China has been forced to deal with tainted milk products and other contaminated food products in past years, particularly with the melamine milk scandal that killed six children and sickened 300,000 more people in 2008. Some of Yili’s products were found contaminated with melamine at the time, along with several other dairy companies.
Melamine-tainted food resurfaced in China in 2010, with high levels of the industrial chemical found in products from several companies.
Last December, dairy products by the China Mengniu Dairy Company, also based in Inner Mongolia, were found to have elevated levels of aflatoxin, a substance that is carcinogenic for humans.
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