China's Health Ministry said Tuesday it will investigate parents' claims that a brand of milk powder has caused several babies to develop breasts.
Ministry spokesman Deng Haihua said at a news conference that authorities are investigating and testing milk powder made by China-based baby formula maker Synutra International Inc. after parents of at least three female infants in the central province of Hubei made the allegations.
"We have also arranged for medical experts to discuss the conditions of the affected female babies and open an investigation to analyze the connection between the illness of the babies and the milk powder," he said.
A food safety expert for the World Health Organization said test results are expected within days and that the agency will then take a look.
A statement issued by Synutra on Monday quoted chairman and chief executive Liang Zhang as saying the company is completely confident its products are safe.
Shares of Synutra, which also has an office in Rockville, Md., dropped more than 25 per cent Monday on the Nasdaq in New York City.
Milk powder became a sensitive topic in China two years ago when more than 300,000 children became ill and six died from infant formula tainted by the industrial chemical melamine.
At the time, a Chinese agency found melamine in formula made by 22 Chinese producers, including Synutra, and Synutra announced it would recall products that may have been contaminated.
That scandal led China to overhaul its food safety measures, but authorities in several cases this year have found the tainted milk again being used in products instead of having been destroyed as ordered.
This week's claims are different. The parents in Hubei claim milk powder caused their babies to develop breasts, state media said.
The reports said the babies, from four to 15 months old, were found to have abnormal levels of the hormones estradiol and prolactin, which stimulates lactation, or the making of breast milk.