China's Chief Quality Regulator Resigns Amid Milk Scare

(Dow Jones Newswires China)

 

China's chief quality regulator has resigned, two people familiar with the matter said Monday, amid a toxic milk scandal that has killed at least three children and sickened nearly 53,000.

 

No reason was given for the resignation of Li Changjiang, the chief of China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, but -- if officially linked to the growing milk scare -- he would be the highest political casualty to date that has already included the detention of one top milk executive and the dismissal of a local mayor.

 

Beijing authorities also said that China's biggest producer of powdered milk had known for months that its baby formula was tainted with the industrial chemical melamine. There were complaints about infant formula sold by the Sanlu Group Co. as early as December, 2007, China Central Television reported, citing an investigation by the State Council, China's Cabinet.

 

Mr. Li didn't show up for work Monday, and staff at the quality watchdog agency were told during a morning meeting that Li had submitted his resignation and that it had been accepted, the people familiar with the matter said.

 

Wang Yong, deputy secretary-general for the State Council, China's Cabinet, will become the new chief quality regulator, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

 

The news department of the quality regulator said Monday they hadn't heard of the matter. The State Council Information Office couldn't immediately comment on the matter.

 

The Chinese government may take days to comment on personnel changes, if it does at all. It isn't uncommon for the government's response to eventually come via the state-owned Xinhua News Agency.

 

On Sunday, Premier Wen Jiabao toured a supermarket and visited sick babies in a Beijing hospital. Wen vowed to prevent future such failures, according to state media, as the official tally of children sickened by the tainted formula continued to jump.

 

State media have said four babies died from tainted formula, although the Health Ministry puts the current tally at three.

 

Mr. Wen, according to Xinhua, vowed the government would put more efforts into food security, taking the milk scandal as a warning and admitted that it "revealed inadequate government supervision and shown a lack of professional morality and social responsibility by some companies."

 

Children across China have been taken to hospitals after drinking milk thought to have been contaminated by the industrial chemical melamine, which is used to make plastics. The use of melamine has also been found in other China-made dairy products and has been discovered in overseas markets.

 

As of Monday, a total of 52,857 children have been brought to hospitals after becoming ill, a health ministry spokesman said. Most had "basically recovered," but 12,892 remained hospitalized, a government spokesman said. 9-22-08

 

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