CHINA: Chinese police have detained 47 people accused of making or selling fake baby milk powder that has caused the deaths of dozens of children in rural China, in a case that has horrified the country, Clifford Coonan in Beijing writes
Doctors say around 200 babies have developed what local farmers in China's grain belt are calling 'big head disease', a form of malnutrition which causes the infants' heads to swell while their bodies waste away.
Dozens of children are feared dead from the fake formula, which contains only tiny amounts of nutrients.
The official news agency, Xinhua, reported that 13 children, mostly from poor farm families, had died of malnutrition in the city of Fuyang, in Anhui province, after being fed the bogus formula but there are reports of many more deaths from neighbouring provinces.
Most of the babies are from poor rural families, unaware of what was happening to their offspring as they have little understanding about nutrition.
The scandal was made public in a report late last month on Chinese state television, prompting Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to launch a special investigation.
It has struck a particular chord in a country where official government policy demands that the majority of couples are only allowed to have one child.
Fake DVDs and pirate CDs are widely available in China, but most people are largely indifferent to the effects of counterfeit goods.
However, the fake formula milk scandal has reminded many Chinese people how counterfeiting can have serious effects when health products and medicine are faked and the deaths have prompted a national crackdown on safety violations in China's food and drug markets.
Some of the fake milk powders contain around one per cent protein, which health experts say provides almost no nutrition for babies' growth.
Investigators blamed illegal manufacturers throughout China for the problem and reported that 45 brands sold in Fuyang and elsewhere were substandard.
Authorities say families of infants who died will be given 10,000 yuan, around €1,000.
UNICEF says rising rates of infant deaths are often associated with a shift away from mothers' milk to substitutes, especially in developing countries. Until recently, rural Chinese mothers usually breast-fed babies. But with rising incomes, more families are relying on formula.