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China Clears Infant Formula in Early Puberty Scare

In response to another public relations crisis surrounding Chinese dairy products, Chinese health officials released a report claiming that locally made milk formula was not to blame for early puberty in baby girls.

The Chinese Ministry of Health’s report stated that no link was found between the use of infant formula and reports by families claiming that after using the product their infant daughters had grown breasts.

chinese-formula-featured.jpgSeventy-three samples of the baby formula, made by Qingdo-based Synutra International, were tested by the ministry.  Officials concluded that the milk powder contained normal levels of the specific hormones thought to have caused the early development.

According to the Health Times, a Beijing-based newspaper, three families in the central province of Hubei claimed that their daughters grew breasts after being fed formula made by Synutra in July.  The newspaper reported that the infants had levels of the hormones estradiol and prolactin, some were as high as those found in adult women.  The aforementioned hormones stimulate the production of breast milk.

In light of previous scandals, Chinese authorities are eager to quell fears of concerned parents over dangerous Chinese baby products.  The country has had numerous tainted dairy product crises, including the highly publicized 2008 and 2010 melamine-tainted baby formula scandals. The 2008 crisis sickened thousands of children and killed at least six.

The ministry’s investigation, conducted by nine practicing experts in the areas of food safety, endocrinology and pediatrics, concluded that the three Hubei cases resulted because of “minimal puberty,” a condition where early onset of puberty happens in girls before the age of 2 and boys of up to 6 months old.

“Breast development in female infants is not rare clinically,” Liang Li, an endocrinologist at the Zhejiang University School of Medicine, told the Global Times, an English-language newspaper sponsored by the Chinese government, after the government issued its statement Sunday.

“Breast development in the three baby girls in Hubei has no link to Synutra milk powder,” said Chinese Health Ministry spokesman Deng Haihua.  The spokesman cited the fact that the Hubei infants did not show abnormal bone growth or other symptoms such as abnormal hormone levels to indicate early puberty.

World Health Organization food safety expert Ben Embarek, indicated that health officials need to investigate whether even low levels of hormones in baby formula could affect infants who largely rely on the formula as their main food source.  Embarek also said that the results of the Hubei baby analysis may have been affected by the fact that the children’s parents stopped using the formula days or weeks before the tests.

According to other reports of the incident, parents have flooded doctors’ offices to have their children checked as they are skeptical of health officials’ findings.

Wang Gang, parent of a 1-year-old infant, took his daughter to the Beijing Children’s Hospital after noticing a strange liquid on her underwear.  Wang said the doctor evaluating his daughter was so surprised at the level of hormones present that he asked if it was possible the child had accidentally swallowed birth control pills.

“I’ve heard the statement from the ministry, and it makes me feel helpless,” Wang told a newspaper.  In addition, he said other parents are dissatisfied with the answers coming from doctors and the Health Ministry.  He’s started an online group on QQ, a popular Chinese instant messaging forum, where he and more than 100 other families debate how they can independently test the samples of infant formula and whether they should start raising sheep to ensure their own safe supply of milk for their children.

“There’s no way I’m using milk formula, whether it’s from China or abroad,” Wang said.

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