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Chinese eggs tainted too

Tests show melamine, used to boost protein levels, being used in animal feed. Meats could also be affected.

November 02, 2008|Gillian Wong | Wong writes for the Associated Press.

Beijing — First it was baby formula. Then, dairy-based products from yogurt to chocolate.

Now chicken eggs have been contaminated with melamine, as an admission by state-run media that the industrial chemical is regularly added to animal feed in China fueled fears Friday that the problem could be more widespread, affecting fish, meat and other products.

Peter Dingle, a toxicity expert at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, said, however, that aside from the tainted formula that killed at least four Chinese infants and left 54,000 children hospitalized just over a month ago, it was unlikely that humans would get sick from melamine in meat, the amounts would be too low.

But Dingle and others said China should have cracked down sooner on feed companies that have boosted their earnings by using the chemical, which is normally used to make plastic and fertilizers.

Rich in nitrogen, melamine gives low-quality food and feed high protein readings.

"Traders can make a lot of profit by doing it," said Jason Yan, the U.S. Grains Council's technical director in Beijing.

Extremely high levels of melamine -- as found in the Chinese baby formula -- can cause kidney stones, and in extreme cases can bring on life-threatening kidney failure.

But while scientists say it's not dangerous to ingest small amounts, they cannot be definitive because there have been no tests on melamine's effects in humans.

That leaves consumers worldwide, particularly parents, worried about food products from China, and even those made elsewhere with ingredients imported from Chinese companies.

Among those not taking any chances is Pranee Suankaew, in Bangkok, Thailand.

"Let's go, let's go," the 37-year-old homemaker as she tugged her 4-year-old away from the candy aisle where he eyed a bag of M&Ms. "We're getting you fruit and a lollipop. There's no milk in that."

The baby formula set off a global recall of foods made with Chinese dairy products and sparked raids in supermarkets across Asia. Twelve truckloads of candy, yogurt and other dairy-based goods were burned in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, just this week.

With the scandal escalating, Chinese leaders are now desperate to clean up the country's image, making dozens of arrests in recent weeks.

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Associated Press writer Robin McDowell in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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