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Female Infants Growing Breasts in China? Formula Scare Outrages Parents

In this Oct. 15, 2008 file photo, a baby drinks milk from a bottle at home in Yongan, in eastern China's Shandong province.
In this Oct. 15, 2008 file photo, a baby drinks milk from a bottle at home in Yongan, in eastern China's Shandong province.(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File) AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

(CBS/AP) Are Chinese babies growing breasts from drinking a certain brand of milk powder?

That's what a group of Chinese parents are claiming and now the government is investigating.

The formula in question is produced by Synutra and according to Chinese media, parents of at least three children in the central province of Hubei said their children are growing breasts after drinking it.

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.

"At first, I thought it was a tumor. But hospital doctors preliminarily diagnosed it as symptom of sexual prematurity caused by hormones," Deng Xiaoyun, who has a 1-year-old daughter, told the English-language Global Times newspaper Monday.

Deng Haihua, the health ministry spokesman, said growth hormones are forbidden in milk powder products in China.

But Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a World Health Organization food safety expert, said a link to hormones is a possibility, and if hormones are found in the product, the most likely source would be the cows, which may have been given the hormone to help them grow.

Synutra, the company that makes the formlua in question denies any wrnogdoing.

"We feel strongly that these claims are false and highly irresponsible. They are based on speculation instead of scientific evidence," said Joseph Chow, director of board of directors of Synutra said during a Tuesday investor call.

This isn't China's first go around with milk problems. Two years ago, more than 300,000 children were sickened and six died from formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.

At the time, a Chinese agency found melamine in formula made by 22 Chinese producers, including Synutra. The company announced it would recall products that may have been contaminated.

China said it has overhauled its food safety procedures, but in several cases, melamine has turned up again this year. It's not immediately clear if any of those cases involved Synutra.

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