State confirms a cover-up in milk poisoning scandal

Rowan Callick, China correspondent | September 24, 2008

Source of Article:,25197,24392442-2703,00.html

CHINESE parents queued in their thousands with their babies outside China's hospitals yesterday as public anxiety continued to spread over the country's milk poisoning disaster and new reports confirmed a cover-up of the scandal.

State media reported yesterday that Sanlu Group, the dairy firm first found to be selling melamine-contaminated goods, began receiving complaints of sick children as early as last December, state television said.

Citing a cabinet probe into the now international scandal, it also said Communist officials in the city of Shijiazhuang, where Sanlu is based, delayed referring the matter to higher authorities for more than a month after Sanlu finally told them of the problem on August 2.

The finding exonerates everyone at the national level of responsibility, except for the quality agency chief who was yesterday forced to quit

"In the eight months from December 2007 to August 2, 2008, Sanlu made no report to relevant authorities in Shijiazhuang and took no corrective measures, allowing the situation to worsen further," the report on state-run CCTV's news channel said. The report appeared to be the first official confirmation that news of the risks posed by the milk products was deliberately suppressed.

Reports of tainted milk only emerged in state-run media earlier this month.

The chemical melamine, normally used in making plastics, was apparently added to milk supplies to give the appearance of higher protein levels.

China's top leaders have weighed in with ever tougher statements lambasting milk companies and local officials.

But their words, and a wave of resignations and sackings, appear to be having less impact than in previous food and drug scandals - in part because so many families have been affected. About 53,000 children so far are reported to have suffered from resulting kidney problems.

Premier Wen Jiabao - who was dubbed "China's granddad" for his empathetic role during the Sichuan earthquake in May - has already made visits to children's hospitals this week.

Yesterday, President Hu Jintao said: "This incident shows that some cadres lack an awareness of purpose, of the big picture, of anxiety, of responsibility. Some of them are numb to the complaints and the safety of the masses."

The state news agency Xinhua yesterday described as a "blitz" the removal of officials over the melamine poisoning. It said the sacking of the chief of China's quality agency, and the resignation of the governor of Shanxi province after 254 people drowned in mud as an illegal iron ore tailings dump collapsed, "represent the biggest step China has taken" to discipline errant cadres since the SARS outbreak five years ago.

The news agency admitted "the scandal was covered up until September" after complaints over kidney failures began last December.

But it did not explain who did the covering up, now widely believed in China to have occurred in order to prevent embarrassment to the Government until after the Olympic Games.

Sanlu replaced Yili, another company found to have been selling melamine-contaminated products, as the official dairy sponsor before the Olympic Games, after Yili milk was rated substandard.

Hong Kong authorities yesterday reported a second child with a kidney stone after drinking contaminated dairy products.

And The Philippines became the 11th country to either bar Chinese milk products or to have taken some other form of action to curb consumption.

Meanwhile, the share price of Beijing Sanyuan Foods shares has surged almost 50 per cent in the past week, while almost all other dairy stocks have plunged - principally, it appears, because it is the official milk supplier to the National People's Congress, China's parliament - underlining the widespread perception that the country's rulers exempt themselves from the challenges confronting the "laobaixing", the ordinary people of China.

With agencies


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