Police reveal motive, details of NW China milk poisoning case

09:22, April 13, 2011      

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Police said Tuesday that the two people who allegedly poisoned the milk that caused the death of three babies in northwest China did so out of anger against the farmer who produced the milk.

Investigations show that nitrite, an industrial salt that can be poisonous, was intentionally added to milk produced on Ma Wenxuan's dairy farm in Mafang, a village in the city of Pingliang in Gansu Province.

Police allege that a man surnamed Wu and his wife, surnamed Ma, added the chemical to the milk because they were angry with Ma Wenxuan over some unresolved business disputes.

The couple and Ma Wenxuan jointly rent the same piece of land and farm dairy cows on it, according to a spokesman with the local public security bureau.

Wu purchased nitrite sometime around April 1. On April 5, Wu's wife added a small amount of it to Ma Wenxuan's milk. People who drank the tainted milk displayed only slight symptoms of poisoning.

On April 6, the woman again poisoned Ma Wenxuan's milk, but this time she used more nitrite.

Thirty-nine people in Pingliang were sent to the hospital after drinking the nitrite-tainted milk. Three children under two years died, the youngest being 36 days old.

The couple are detained pending further investigation, the spokesman said.

The poisoned milk was directly sold by dairy farmers to consumers without any inspection to ensure its safety.

Ma Shuqin, mother of an 80-day-old baby who survived the poisoning, said that she knew there had been no safety checks on the locally produced milk, but felt that she had no other option.

In 2008, melamine-tainted milk powder killed at least six infants and sickened 300,000 across the country, which deeply eroded consumers' faith in the integrity of China's dairy industry. The chemical was added to make diluted milk appear protein rich.

"I don't trust the domestic-produced milk powder after the shadow cast by the melamine scandal, but I can not afford expensive imported powder, so the fresh milk produced by neighbors seemed like a natural choice," said Ma Shuqin.

"I never thought someone would deliberately poison milk. Now I really don't know what is safe for my baby," said Ma.

Before the melamine scandal, there were three milk collection stations in the city, but all of them were closed after the scandal. Selling milk directly to consumers became the dairy farmers' only option, said Wang Luxiang, Deputy Chief of the Municipal Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Bureau.

While intentional poisoning caused the latest milk tragedy, it shines light on the regulation loopholes for directly sold milk.

Wang said that his bureau conducts random tests on a regular basis, but chances that a dairy farmer's products get tested are very low because only national and provincial husbandry regulators have the capacity to run such tests.

The city has 239 dairy farmers and a total of 1,600 cows. After the poisoning case, direct milk sales were banned in the city, causing many farmers to dump their milk.

Yuan Xiaoping, a dairy farmer who owns 20 cows, said that the incident dealt a heavy blow to his business since no one would dare buy milk directly from him.

"I have to dump around 100 kg of milk everyday. Besides, I have to feed the cows every day with feed that costs 5 yuan (0.76 U.S. dollars) per kg," said Yuan.

If direct sales are banned, milk collection stations should be built to run safety tests. If the direct sales ban is lifted, then safety regulations should be enhanced, urged local dairy farmers and consumers.

Source: Xinhua
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