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New tests: Chinese milk melamine-free

South Korean officials recall M&M's and Snickers, as China's production standards improve.

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That milk has found its way into a wide range of products that ended up on sale throughout the world. The US Food and Drug Administration has found melamine in Chinese-made candies and yogurt on sale in America, the European Union has banned the sale of Chinese baby food, Thailand is returning 122 tons of milk powder to China, and Australia has suspended imports of a Japanese brand of milk tea made in China.

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Most of the melamine-tainted products found abroad have contained relatively small traces of the toxic chemical, compared with the milk powder on which hundreds of thousands of Chinese babies fed.

A batch of Cadbury's chocolate in Hong Kong, for example, was found to contain 56 parts per million of melamine – 20 times the level permitted in Hong Kong. The candy was withdrawn from sale, but by comparison the tainted Sanlu's baby formula contained 1,000 times the level permitted in Hong Kong.

Distressed Chinese parents, meanwhile, are finding that hospitals do not always abide by the government's pledge to provide free treatment for all babies suffering from kidney problems as a result of drinking adulterated milk.

Many local authorities are interpreting that promise very narrowly, prompting one family to sue Sanlu for $22,000 to cover medical costs they had incurred since their baby first had problems in June. The hospital where the baby is being treated is offering care free of charge only to children diagnosed after Sept. 12th, when news of the scandal first surfaced.

It is not yet clear, however, whether the court will accept the suit, according to Ji Cheng, one of the lawyers representing the family. "We have brought the case and we cannot say anything until we get information from the court," Mr. Ji says.

Other lawyers seeking to assist aggrieved parents have reported pressure from local authorities to abandon their pro bono efforts. Elsewhere, however, volunteer lawyers say their regional governments are seeking to coordinate an orderly legal response to the crisis.

"They wanted to discuss with me how to organize a lawyers' group to cope with the case," Niu Shouquiang, a volunteer lawyer working with Sanlu victims, says of a phone call he received recently from the provincial Justice Department in Hebei. "They don't want to see people go petitioning" to higher levels of government in a publicly embarrassing way, he adds.

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