China probe finds Coke yogurt poisoning likely

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 06, 2011 6:44 AM
China probe finds Coke yogurt poisoning likely

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police believe a child who died after drinking a Coca Cola-made yogurt drink was probably the victim of deliberate poisoning, official media said on Tuesday after a testing agency found no toxins in samples from the same batch of the drink.

The findings appear to cut the chances of a broader recall of Coke products in northeastern China.

"The police's technical tests and investigations have preliminarily confirmed that this incident is a criminal case in Changchun, which reaffirms that it is not related in any way to our product quality," Joanna Price, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola said in an emailed statement.

An 11-year-old boy died in Changchun city in Jilin province after he drank the strawberry-flavored Pulpy Milky yogurt drink on November 28, and his mother was severely ill after consuming the same drink.

Another mother and her daughter became ill after drinking another bottle of the same drink in Jilin a few days earlier, but recovered, Coca-Cola spokeswoman Price said earlier.

Police have reached the "preliminary conclusion" that the drink was deliberately adulterated, said the official Xinhua news agency, citing the provincial public security office.

Investigators in both cases found highly toxic pesticides present in the remains of the drinks, said the report.

But tests carried out by the China National Centre for Food Quality Supervision and Testing "showed no existence of Methomyl or thiodicarb, two toxic pesticides, on the samples of the same batch of the strawberry-flavored milk drinks taken by the victim," the Xinhua news agency reported late on Monday.

Checks of the production process also found they were safe, the report also said, citing a statement from Coca-Cola's Jilin unit. Checks of other Coca-Cola products on sale in Changchun also did not find toxins, said the Xinhua report from Tuesday.

"All these tests and reviews indicate our products are safe and within standards," Price said in her email. "This incident is an isolated act that occurred in Changchun, and we are one hundred percent confident that our products are safe and in good quality."

The company and officials earlier agreed the yogurt drink should be removed from shelves in Jilin province while the investigation was under way.

Food scandals are common in China, where crackdowns have failed to stamp out poisonings and toxin outbreaks that have shaken consumer confidence.

Foreign companies are watched closely as they are generally perceived to hold stricter standards. When western companies are accused of transgressions, it becomes big news in China.

The Xinhua report said cases in 2009 and 2010 of a man and a teenager being poisoned by mercury in Sprite, a Coke-produced softdrink, were traced to intentional poisonings, not quality problems.

The mother of the dead boy has stabilized and is recovering, and the two victims of the other poisoning have already checked out of hospital, the Xinhua report said.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Matt Driskill)