THREE foreign baby milk powder producers have been accused of adding a banned flavoring essence which could harm babies' livers and kidneys.

Milk powder from New Zealand's Wyeth and United States-based Abbott and Mead Johnson was found to contain vanillin, according to the food safety testing center of Hunan Agricultural University in central China.

All three companies denied the accusation yesterday, saying their products were safe and met China's standards.

"Wyeth never added any vanillin or other flavoring essence into its milk powder named by the center, and the company believes the test was not in line with the food testing procedure required by the nation," it said in a statement.

Abbott and Mead Johnson also said in statements that the products mentioned by the university didn't have any vanillin and they were strictly checked before going on the Chinese market.

The university's report said the milk powder was found to contain vanillin ranging from 185 to 354 milligrams per kilogram.

Flavoring essence is banned in formula for babies under six months old, according to China's standards for food additives standards.

Food with flavoring essence puts pressure on babies' detoxification systems because their organs are not mature, Jiang Zhuoqin, a nutriology expert with Guangzhou-based Sun Yat-sen University, reportedly said.

Consuming a large amount of vanillin could lead to headaches and vomiting and harm the liver and kidneys.

The Hunan university conducted its tests at the request of the Hunan Province's Brand Credibility Investigation Center.

The baby milk powder products were bought randomly from supermarkets in Changsha, the provincial capital, the center said.

A Shanghai mother who usually buys overseas brands of milk powder said she was unaware that some ingredients could be harmful.

Yang Jia, the mother of a three-month-old boy, said: "I didn't know that flavoring essence could not be added into milk powder for little babies, and I don't check the list of ingredients either because I have no knowledge about all these ingredients."

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