Police arrest underground gang 'poisoning baby milk for profit'


Published Date: 01 October 2008

By David Barboza in Shanghai


Source of Article:  http://news.scotsman.com/world/Police-arrest-underground-gang-39poisoning.4544104.jp


CHINA has detained 22 people suspected of operating an underground network that intentionally adulterated milk with the industrial chemical melamine. The contamination has led to the nation's worst food safety crisis in decades.

President Hu Jintao appeared on yesterday evening's main news bulletin, calling on the country's dairy industry to step up supervision and pay attention to product quality, underscoring the leadership's determination to resolve the scandal.

"Food safety is a matter of the health of the people," Hu told the head of a dairy company in the eastern province of Anhui during a visit to a farm, shaking his finger.

The arrests, news of which was carried on the official Xinhua news agency, were the third mass detention of suspects in the contamination, which has made more than 50,000 children ill, caused the deaths of at least four from kidney stones, and led to recalls of products at home and abroad suspected of containing adulterated Chinese milk powder.

On 14 September, the government said 19 people had been detained, and on 19 September, 12 more.

Yesterday's announcement said that police officers in northern China, the nation's biggest dairy production area, had raided more than 40 farms and milk plants in Hebei province and seized more than 220kg of melamine, commonly used to make plastics and fertiliser. In food, it falsely inflates the nutritional value when tests are carried out.

The government accused the group of producing melamine in underground factories and selling it to dairy farms to adulterate the milk for profit.

Over the past week, a growing number of global companies have been drawn into the scandal after tests showed that some products had been produced with melamine-tainted milk products from China.

On Monday, Cadbury, one of the world's biggest confectioners, said that some of the chocolate it sells in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia, all produced in Beijing, had tested positive for melamine.

The company said that the products affected had not gone to other countries.

Yesterday, Unilever said it was recalling four batches of its Lipton-brand milk powder in Hong Kong and Macau that contained traces of melamine.

Last night, the Dutch food safety watchdog said it had found slightly elevated levels of melamine in biscuits imported from China and sold under the Koala brand. They were taken off the shelves, but the chance they made anybody sick was "extremely small", the Food and Wares Authority said.

In China, though, the milk scare has set off a minor panic. Sanlu Group, the country's biggest maker of infant milk formula, has its HQ in Hebei province. More than 200,000 children have been brought to hospitals there to be checked for melamine contamination or kidney stone problems over the past few weeks.

Last week's figure for children affected, about 53,000, has not been updated, nor has the government held a news conference recently, detailing its findings.

But it has tried to assure consumers that the country's dairy supply is safe, reporting that hundreds of tests since 14 September, involving some of the biggest dairy makers, had not detected melamine.



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