HONG KONG—At least two Chinese egg producers in different parts of the country have found traces of melamine in their eggs, amid a newly widening food scare that first came to light here over the weekend.
The level of melamine found in one batch of eggs from the central province of Hubei was 3.1 milligrams per kilo, above the government-set limit of 2.5 in Hong Kong.
A manager at the Pengchang Agricultural Products Co. in Hubei's Jingshan city said exports of eggs to Hong Kong had been temporarily suspended, and that the rest of the company's eggs were now being tested for melamine so as to track down the source of the contamination.
"We are investigating the situation now," Pan Fengxia said. "We don't yet know the exact source of the contamination in the production line, whether it's air or water contamination. There is pollution in the air as well. Perhaps it is in the chicken feed."
Asked why the problems with melamine, which has already killed four Chinese infants and sickened tens of thousands more with kidney stones, weren't detected sooner, Pan said: "We didn't discover this. That's to say we didn't discover there was melamine."
"The eggs are being tested now [by the public health authorities]. We won't get the results for three days. We are now waiting for those results. We had tested the eggs before but that was spot testing on samples," Pan added.
Company moves offices
The first batch of contaminated eggs in Hong Kong came from the Hanwei group in the northeastern port city of Dalian.
Hong Kong's Center for Food Safety (CFS) said the sample of the Select Fresh Brown Eggs (Extra Large), produced by Dalian Hanwei Chicken Farming Ltd. and sold in six-piece packs, was found to contain 4.7 ppm (part per million) of melamine, above the government legal limit of 2.5 ppm for melamine in food.
Calls to the company's offices in Dalian went unconnected during office hours Wednesday owing to a change of telephone number. An employee who answered the phone at the company's former premises, Wangluo Mansions, said Hanwei had moved out of the offices.
"The Hanwei Group moved offices on Saturday," she said. "Everything has gone. They have moved to Lushun. I don't really know why they moved."
"They have moved to Lushun where there are a lot of chicken farms. I saw the news [about the melamine in eggs] on the news. It was in the chicken feed," she said.
Feed suppliers blamed
An official at the Dalian municipal agricultural committee declined to comment. "We will not accept requests for telephone interviews from you. We can't give telephone interviews," he said.
Han Wei, board director of Dalian Hanwei Enterprise Group in northeastern Liaoning province, apologized for the problem.
"We feel rather shocked and sorry and would like to shoulder all responsibilities and consequences resulting from the incident," he told reporters in Dalian.
Han denied that the company had ever bought melamine or added it to feedstuff and products. But he said melamine was found in some stored feedstuff supplied by a feed plant in late September, according to the official news agency Xinhua.
The company had recalled problematic egg products and was preparing to sue the feed supplier, Han was quoted as saying.
Problem eggs were also found in Hangzhou in eastern Zhejiang province, Xinhua said. The eggs, from China's northern Shanxi province, contained 3.5 miligrams of melamine per kilo.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.