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Wed 3 Dec 2008 11:30 AM

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Saudi hit by milk contamination scare

UPDATE 2: Authorities say melamine found in milk powder made in China, Nestle rejects report.

Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday that harmful concentrations of melamine had been found in milk powder made by a Nestle plant in China but the world's largest food group rejected the report."All Nestle dairy products sold in Saudi Arabia - just as anywhere else in the world - are absolutely safe for consumption. No Nestle product is made from milk adulterated with melamine," Nestle said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia's Food and Drug Authority reported on its website (www.sfda.gov.sa) that high concentrations of the industrial chemical were found in products sold in the kingdom and warned consumers they could be harmful to health.

By 1352 GMT, shares in Nestle had fallen some 3 percent to 41.42 Swiss francs, underperforming a 2.26 percent drop in the Dow Jones Stoxx European food and beverage index.

"Now the company's denied it and said all products are safe, but it looks like nobody believes it because the shares are still being sold," one Zurich-based trader said.

Saudi Arabia named the product as a 400g pack of Nesvita Pro Bones and said the batch was produced on May 6, 2008 by a Nestle plant in China. The authority said the product must not be used by consumers of any age.

It said it had also found melamine concentrations harmful to chidren in three other batches of the same brand - in 1,800g and 900g packs, which were made Nov. 19, 2007 and on Feb. 25, 2008.

Nestle said it had organised a withdrawal of Nesvita Pro Bones Low Fat after a request from Saudi Arabia on Oct. 18 to pull milk products made in China, pending results of tests.

Nestle said its tests on the product - as well as those by an independent laboratory - gave results well below limits defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as by authorities in Canada, New Zealand and the European Union.

The Saudi agency also found melamine in a chocolate wafer cream it identified as "Apollo" made by Malaysia-based ApolloFood Industries on June 5, 2008.

The authority said it had tested 52 milk powder products, none of which are destined for babies' consumption. All of the products were made in China or in countries which have found melamine-tainted products, it added.

China has lifted to six the number of babies believed killed from drinking a melamine-tainted milk formula and raised the number affected to 294,000.

Melamine is an industrial compound found in plastics that has been used to fool government protein content tests.

Chinese media first reported in September that babies had fallen ill after consuming melamine-tained formula, rocking faith in Chinese-made products.

The scandal prompted bans and extra checks on Chinese milk and food products in dozens of export markets.

Tests revealed it in Chinese-made products ranging from chocolate bars to yoghurt. Last year, melamine was found in China-made pet food ingredients that killed pets in the United States.

The United States earlier this month issued an import alert for Chinese-made food products, calling for foods to be stopped at the border unless importers can certify that they are either free of dairy goods or free of melamine. (Reuters)

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