Melamine campaign nets 96 suspects

08:22, January 14, 2011      

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Thousands of tons of melamine-tainted milk powder was confiscated and 96 people detained in the second half of 2010 in a bid to root out dairy products laced with the chemical that devastated the nation's dairy industry.

The 96 are either in police custody awaiting prosecution or in prison for violations linked to melamine-tainted dairy products, the State Council's Food Safety Commission said yesterday.

Seventeen had been convicted, including two people sentenced to life in prison. Thirty-eight people are awaiting trial and 41 others are under investigation.

From July through December, authorities confiscated about 2,130 tons of tainted milk powder, the commission said.

Following the 2008 scandal, China ordered all contaminated products burned or buried, but did not carry out the destruction itself. Some people had apparently saved tainted product.

Loopholes in quality control in the dairy industry were identified during the campaign, the commission said, and 191 officials were punished for failing to do their duty, with 26 of them fired.

The 2008 scandal killed at least six infants and sickened 300,000 children across the country.

Melamine had been added to watered-down milk to make it appear rich in protein in quality tests. The chemical can cause kidney stones and kidney damage.

In August, three officials with Qinghai Province's Dongyuan Dairy Factory and three dealers who sold leftover tainted powdered milk to the factory were arrested.

The State Food and Drug Administration said dealers Zhou Zhonglin, Sun Xuefeng and Dai Wenming sold 48 tons of the powder to the Dongyuan factory.

The heads of the factory, Liu Zhanfeng, Liu Xiping and Wang Haifeng, had instructed workers to mix the powder with their products, the food safety watchdog said.

The powder was traced back to Hebei Province, source of the 2008 scandal that brought down the state-owned dairy giant Sanlu Group.

Police seized 124 tons of products from Dongyuan's storehouse and recalled products from Shanghai and Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Hunan, Henan and Liaoning provinces.

The milk powder was first detected in Gansu Province in July.

Tests showed up to 500 times the maximum allowable level of melamine, the Gansu provincial food safety watchdog said. The milk was traced back to Dongyuan.

In September, seven executives of a dairy company in northern China's Shanxi Province were arrested over the sale of 26 tons of melamine-laced milk powder.

The Jinfulai Diary Co in Yangquan City was found to have mixed the tainted powder with fresh milk and resold it to central China's Hunan and Hebei provinces from December 2009.

The powder had been given by another company, whose name was not revealed, as debt payment, authorities said.

All Chinese dairy companies will have to renew their production licenses this year or face closure in the government's latest bid to ensure safety.

Zhi Shuping, director of the state quality agency, said last week the measure was to improve quality and safety in the industry.

According to a survey last year, Chinese consumers are still not confident about the quality of domestic milk products.

Growing concern over quality has been driving up imports.

China is now the world's largest market for whole milk powder and imports are estimated to have nearly doubled to 340,000 tons last year.

In Shanghai, inspectors closed the Shanghai Panda Dairy Co in January 2010 for producing and selling products containing the tainted powder.

Source: Shanghai Daily
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