China says more than 3,600 children still hospitalized after drinking tainted milk


BEIJING — More than 3,600 children in China remain hospitalized after drinking contaminated milk powder, the government says.

A total of 3,654 children remain sick, with three in serious condition, the Health Ministry said in a notice on its Web site posted late Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, a total of 46,717 children have been treated and discharged, it said. Milk powder contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine has been blamed for the deaths of four infants.

The notice said all of the deaths occurred between May and August, which was before the public knew that milk products were tainted.

Melamine, used in plastics and fertilizer, can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure in larger doses.

Since authorities announced in September that melamine had been found in milk, the scandal has prompted a string of recalls of Chinese-made milk products in dozens of countries.

Authorities say melamine apparently was added to dairy products by middlemen who collected milk from farmers and sold it to large dairy companies. The melamine boosted nitrogen levels and made the milk seem higher in protein when tested.

A United Nations report Wednesday urged the country to enact stricter laws and replace its patchwork surveillance system to help restore public trust badly shaken by a spate of food safety scandals.

Most critically, China needs a unified regulatory agency and a place consumers can go for reliable information, the report said. The task is now split among a half dozen government agencies, creating confusion and uneven enforcement, it said.