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Sanlu investigated after babies sickened
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Health officials in northwest China are investigating a brand of baby milk powder that is suspected of giving at least 14 infants kidney stones in the last two months.

The babies were hospitalized after drinking milk made from powder labeled with the Sanlu brand, the Gansu Provincial Public Health Bureau reported.

Sanlu Group, a leading dairy products company in China, denies producing the questionable milk powder, a company spokesman with the surname Zhang told Xinhua.

The company maintained the packaging was fake and had sent people to Gansu to conduct its own investigation, said Zhang.

Zhang Wei, chief urologist at the No.1 Hospital of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), in the provincial capital Lanzhou, said even more babies could be sick, but high medical costs had deterred parents from seeking treatment for their children.

"It is rare for babies to get kidney stones, let alone so many babies at the same time," said Zhang.

Parents told reporters they gave their infants Sanlu milk powder as it was cheap.

"We spent all our money and could only afford steamed bread to feed our babies," said the parents of twins who were receiving treatment in the military hospital.

They said their children's treatment was already costing them 10,000 yuan (1,500 U.S. dollars) and they were trying to borrow more money to ensure all the kidney stones were removed.

Doctor Zhang said seven babes were receiving treatment in the hospital. They ranged in age from newborns to 11 months old.

He received the first case on June 28. All 14 babies were unable to pass urine and had vomited.

The bureau is investigating Sanlu for possible connections between the milk powder and the baby's kidney stones. The bureau would not say when their investigation would be completed or when the results would be published. It also did not give the exact number of infants involved.

This is not the first time Sanlu has been in the headlines in connection with a food quality scandal.

Thirteen infants died of malnutrition in 2004 in east Anhui Province after consuming substandard milk powder. Illegally manufactured milk powder falsely labeled with the brand of Sanlu and other major dairy companies caused 171 babies to be hospitalized.

The majority lived in rural areas in Fuyang City. The parents bought cheap milk powder at rural shops. It contained little nutritional value. The children displayed swollen heads, while their bodies failed to grow.

(Xinhua News Agency September 10, 2008)

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