BEIJING - The Ministry of Health announced on Thursday that a panel of nine experts had been assembled to probe claims that milk powder made by a Chinese company caused infant girls to grow breasts.
The ministry said in a statement that it was "directly investigating the claimed premature puberty cases at the request of Hubei province", and that it would make public the investigation results as soon as possible.
A panel of endocrine, pediatric and food safety experts had been set up by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention to study the premature puberty cases in consultation with local authorities, it said.
The statement said "relevant technical organizations" were already testing milk powder samples from the market and from homes of the infant girls.
The ministry admitted in the statement that some quality inspection agencies had refused requests from members of the public to test milk powder.
The statement said consumers could send the food they perceived to have quality problems to qualified inspection agencies for quality tests, according to China's Food Safety Law.
However, some inspection agencies might refuse to test samples from personal consumers because the origins or history of the samples could be uncertain, the statement said.
Some inspection agencies had to refuse the requests because they were not qualified to test certain samples.
Consumers could report food quality concerns to health authorities, and the authorities should investigate the cases, the statement said.
Parents and doctors in Hubei were reported earlier this month voicing fears that milk powder produced by Nasdaq-listed Synutra International, based in Shandong province's Qingdao, had caused at least three infant girls to develop prematurely.
At a press conference on Aug 10, Ministry of Health spokesman Deng Haihua said food safety authorities were testing samples of milk powder made by Synutra.
The credibility of China's dairy industry took a hammering in 2008 when milk laced with melamine, a chemical added to milk products to make their protein content seem richer, sickened 300,000 children and killed six.