Arla Foods, the Scandinavian dairy processor, has been linked to a growing scandal in China over the contamination of baby milk that has so far resulted in three deaths and thousands falling ill.

Arla’s Chinese joint venture partner, Mengniu Dairy, has emerged as one of more than 20 companies whose formula milk had tested positive for melamine contamination.

Chinese authorities said more than 6,000 babies had so far fallen ill as a result of the contamination, which has been traced back to the Sanlu Group.

Arla said in a statement yesterday that Mengniu had not received any complaints from consumers that had fallen ill as a result of the contamination.

“The Chinese authorities are currently dealing with the situation, which has affected the whole of the dairy industry,” the company said. “They believe that the milk was contaminated at the many independent milk collection depots where farmers take their cows to be milked. These depots resell the milk to the dairies.”

Arla chief executive Peder Tuborgh added: "The situation is extremely distressing for all the families who need milk of the highest quality to feed their children. It is extremely important that we get to the bottom of the problem so that consumers' safety can be guaranteed and confidence in the Chinese dairy industry maintained.”

Earlier this year Arla published its first-ever corporate social responsibility report, outlining its position on issues including food safety.