By Chris Buckley
Milk powder laced with the industrial chemical melamine has led to nearly 13,000 Chinese infants being admitted to hospital, 104 in a serious condition with kidney stones and agonizing complications. Four have died in past months.
The chemical, which can be used to cheat quality checks, has also been found in candy, buns and carton milk sold to other countries and regions, unleashing fear in markets already shaken by a string of "made-in-China" scandals last year.
Outside the mainland, only two children in
But with the scenes of sick infants and details of a
government cover-up alarming Chinese citizens and foreign consumers, officials
vowed a shake-up.
Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai said he would "battle" merchants blamed for selling adulterated milk to dairy companies, acknowledging the problem extended far beyond infant formula.
"The intermediate link in purchasing raw milk is basically out of control," Sun said, according to a report on the ministry website (http://www.agri.gov.cn) late on Monday. "These grave problems and this state of disorder have reached the stage where a clean-up is unavoidable."
Sun singled out local "milk stations," which collect fresh milk from farmers and sell it on. Their operators have been blamed for adding nitrogen-rich melamine to sub-standard or watered-down milk, fooling quality checks measuring protein, also rich in nitrogen. Many were unregistered and unregulated, he said.
The milk scare has had an "adverse effect on the reputation of our products," the Commerce Ministry said in a directive seeking to shore up consumer trust in other products.
"There will be strict inspections of businesses producing and exporting dairy products, food, pharmaceuticals, toys, furniture and other things concerning physical safety."
But now foreign markets are spooked.
Markets that have banned or recalled Chinese milk products
Shares in Mengniu Dairy plunged nearly two-thirds to a 33-month low on Tuesday after brokers downgraded the stock on concerns the scandal would dent industry growth.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that the Sanlu Group, the dairy firm at the heart of the scandal, knew in June that its infant milk powder had problems.
But Sanlu officially reported the
melamine poisonings to
The WHO representative in
"What is really needed if they have a good food safety law is that it really needs to be enforced," he said. "What needs to be stepped up is supervision, inspection and regulation at the local level." 9-23-08
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