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Heinz recalls baby food in China after contamination scare

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China's skyrocketing pollution mean that nearly 20% of farmland is contaminated. GREG BAKER/AFP--Getty Images

China’s quality control police have struck again, this time nailing H.J. Heinz Co for excessive traces of lead in some of its baby food products.

The company said it was withdrawing four batches of its AD Calcium Hi-Protein cereal product as a precautionary measure after being notified by food safety watchdogs in the Zhejiang province of eastern China.

Although apparently unrelated, the incident is the latest in a veritable blitz of exposures about, and accusations against, western companies operating in China, on concerns ranging from food safety to corruption and price-fixing.

A scandal over hygiene issues at a supplier to fast-food chains KFC and McDonalds (MCD) has dominated the headlines more recently, the latest allegations tap a rich vein of insecurity over baby food. French dairy group Danone SA had last year been embroiled in a scare–ultimately proved to be unfounded–over the quality of its infant formula.

Foreign companies are widely perceived as providing higher-quality products and their brands command a hefty premium in stores as a result. But they often choose, or have, to source raw materials locally, whether to keep their supply chains short and their costs down, or to spread the benefits of their involvement with the local economy. The practise is fraught with risk in China, where nearly 20% of farmland is contaminated by heavy metals or chemicals, according to a survey published in April.

Heinz spokesman Michael Mullen as saying that the incident was “isolated” and that “extensive testing confirmed that no other Heinz baby food varieties are affected.”

As requested by the Zhejiang authorities, Mullen said the company will compensate in full any customers who had bought the affected product.

Heinz was taken over last year by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BKW) group and 3G Capital for $23 billion.