Liquid milk from China’s top three dairies is being pulled from shelves today (19 September) after tests found several of their products contained melamine.

An investigation of leading milk producers in China found 24 contaminated products out of 355 samples taken, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) revealed yesterday.

Yili, Mengniu and Bright Dairy made all the contaminated products.

The tests were carried out after milk powder made by several firms was found to be tainted with melamine. The chemical, which makes the protein content in milk appear higher than it is, has been linked to the deaths of four infants while thousands of others are ill.

AQSIQ said the producers of contaminated liquid milk should recall their products voluntarily and stressed that the levels of melamine would not harm adults unless they drank more than 2 litres per day.

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Major foodservice firms Starbucks and KFC have pulled milk supplied by Mengniu to their China outlets.

EU officials are also watching developments closely, Robert Madelin, director-general for health and consumer protection at the European Commission, told a press conference in Beijing.

“We are trying to establish the facts. We’re discussing all aspects of this crisis with our colleagues in China.”

Madelin said the EU did not import Chinese infant milk powder, and there had been no reports of health problems from other Chinese dairy products.

Responding to questions about the delayed recall of contaminated products, he said: “On the governance aspects we’re also asking questions and we’ll probably learn the truth about the same time as you will.”

Yesterday, the State Council said it would halt the system of exempting certain food products from inspection. The system, running since 2000, had allowed leading brands to bypass tests so they could speed up the launch of new products.

The government said it had dispatched 5,487 quality officials to dairy firms around the country to guarantee the safety of products entering the market.