Reports: Companies may have exported formula

China's health minister says a third death of a baby has been reported in the country's spreading scandal over tainted milk formula, and more than 6,200 infants have become sick.

Chen Zhu told a news conference Wednesday that of the 6,244 babies sickened after being fed tainted milk powder, 158 were suffering from acute kidney failure.

He says the third baby died in eastern Zhejiang province. The two earlier deaths had been reported in Gansu province.

China's latest product safety scandal expanded to include more foods Tuesday, with state media reporting some formula produced by companies involved was exported.

State broadcaster CCTV reported on its evening newscast that a nationwide inspection of the 175 Chinese companies making baby milk powder showed that 22 of them had traces of the industrial chemical melamine in their products.

One company, Guangdong-based Yashili, exported its products to Bangladesh, Yemen and Myanmar, CCTV said, but added that initial testing of samples of the company's exports turned up no trace of melamine.

In Hong Kong, food inspectors ordered a recall after melamine was found in an ice cream bar made by Shanghai Yili AB Foods. The amounts of the chemical “would not pose major health effects from normal consumption of the bar, however, small children should not eat it,” the Center for Food Safety reported on its Web site.

The widening scandal is an embarrassing failure for China's product safety system, which was overhauled to restore confidence and preserve export markets after a string of recalls and warnings abroad over tainted toothpaste, faulty tires and other goods.

It is also the second major case in recent years involving baby formula. In 2004, more than 200 Chinese infants suffered malnutrition and at least 12 died after being fed phony formula that contained no nutrients.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted the Health Ministry as saying medical agencies were prepared for the probe to uncover additional cases and were setting up a treatment system for affected infants.

The company at the heart of the food scandal, Sanlu Group, has apologized for the tainted milk powder, which the Health Ministry says was spiked with melamine. The company says suppliers who sold the raw milk apparently added the chemical, normally used in plastics, to make the milk appear higher in protein.

Zhang Zhenling, Sanlu's vice president, apologized Monday but did not explain why the company took so long to inform the public about the contamination despite receiving complaints as early as March and having tests confirm the presence of the chemical in early August.

The company went public with the information after its New Zealand stakeholder told the New Zealand government, which then informed the Chinese government.

“The serious safety accident of the Sanlu formula milk powder for infants has caused severe harm to many sickened babies and their families. We feel really sad about this,” Zhang said, reading from a prepared statement.

None of the milk powder was exported to Europe or the United States.