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China: Sexual prematurity in babies- Dairy Companies Face New Questions

Posted by Author on August 12, 2010

By BRIAN SPEGELE, The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 12, 2010 –

BEIJING— Mounting questions about abnormal hormone levels in several Chinese infants who demonstrated early signs of puberty have again put a Chinese milk supplier and New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd. on the defensive about their products.

The latest issue comes two years after the 2008 milk scandal, in which at least six children died and 300,000 were sickened from milk that contained dangerous levels of melamine, an industrial chemical.

The Chinese company at the center of the latest questions, Nasdaq-listed Synutra International  Inc., insists it isn’t to blame for symptoms of sexual prematurity in babies, including breast growth. On Synutra’s website, it says the company has never added illegal hormones to its milk products, and questions links between its product and the babies’ signs of puberty.

“These claims are highly irresponsible and based on speculation instead of scientific evidence,” said the company’s chairman and chief executive, Liang Zhang. “As a well-known and trusted provider of infant formula in China, we are completely confident that our products are safe and our quality levels are industry leading.”

Earlier this month, parents and doctors in central China’s Hubei province began voicing concern that milk powder from Synutra had caused at least three infant girls to exhibit signs of puberty, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. This week, Ministry of Health officials said they were launching an investigation into the milk powder.

At a news conference on Tuesday, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Health said multiple factors could cause sexual prematurity, and experts couldn’t yet determine whether food was a factor, Xinhua reported.

In 2008, Fonterra, one of New Zealand’s largest companies, faced a wave of criticism in the aftermath of the milk scandal. Fonterra owned a large stake in one of the companies at the center of the scandal, the now-defunct Sanlu Group, but has flourished in China following Sanlu’s closing. Synutra recalled some of its products during the melamine scare…….(more details from Wall Stret Journal)

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