The death sentences imposed on two of the 21 people found guilty in connection with last year’s melamine-tainted infant formula scandal have been carried out, Xinhua reports. Cattle farmer Zhang Yujun, who sold more than 770 tonnes of the tainted milk powder from July 2007 to August 2008, and Geng Jinping, who managed a milk production centre, that supplied the now-bankrupt Sanlu Group and other dairies, were convicted in January and had their appeal s heard in March. The other 19 people convicted were given prison sentences, including Tian Wenhua, Sanlu’s chairwoman and the highest ranking executive charged, who received a life sentence.
The tainted formula killed six children and made 300,000 ill. The case caused outrage across the country and hurried forward the imposition of improved food-safety standards and monitoring. Sanlu had been selling the tainted formula for some months after it had discovered it was contaminated. Meanwhile, more than 100 affected families have still not reached compensation settlements with local authorities.
The parents of the first child to die from ingesting melamine-tainted infant formula has accepted compensation from Sanlu Group, the dairy company at the heart of the scandal, their lawyers say. They have taken the 200,000 yuan ($29,000) death payout under the standardized compensation scheme announced last month by China’s dairy association and the 22 dairy companies involved.
The couple give up their right to further legal action. Not so other parents who say the compensation levels are too low, even though lawyers quoted by Xinhua say that death compensation in Gansu, where the couple live, is typically 40,000 yuan. Parents in Guangdong province launched a lawsuit against Sanlu and the China Dairy Industry Association in October demanding 900,000 yuan, but the Guangzhou court wouldn’t hear the case.
Xinhua also says that more than 3,000 families in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province, where Sanlu is based, have accepted the compensation package, quoting local government officials. The squeeze has been put on parents to take the money regardless of their reservations.
“Some parents were reluctant to accept the compensation package at the beginning, but they were persuaded and have since changed their minds,” a spokesman of the Shijiazhuang government said.
Six babies died and 296,000 children were sickened by the tainted milk. At the start of December, 861 children were still in hospital suffering from kidney stones or urinary problems. The health ministry has not updated the numbers since.
The most senior head to date has rolled in the tainted dairy products scandal. Li Changjiang has resigned as head of the agency responsible for ensuring China’s food supply chain is safe.
Li is the first central government official to lose his job over the scandal, but several local officials have been sacked and several dozen milk brokers and others detained. Wu Xianguo, Party chief of Shijiazhuang City in northern Hebei Province, where Sanlu Group is based, lost his job on Monday, following the sackings of Mayor Ji Chuntang and Vice Mayor Zhang Fawang and three other city officials.
Latest numbers show another jump as the scandal deepens: 53,000 children sickened by melamine-tainted baby formula, 13,000 hospitalized, of whom 104 are in serious condition. Four infants have died.
The fired city officials were blamed for lax supervision and covering up the initial reports of problems with Sanlu’s formula. There is a drive on against officials who fall short on product quality and health and safety standards. A week ago, Meng Xuenong was sacked as governor of Shanxi province following the deadly mining slurry landslide that engulfed Taoshi. The hapless Meng also lost his job as mayor of Beijing following the SARS scandal in 2003. It was after the SARS coverup that Beijing put in place new rules for officials’ accountability.
It now not just melamine in baby formula from one company sold in three provinces, but in dairy products nationwide, and beyond. Chinese dairy products are being pulled off shelves in Hong Kong and Japan. Malaysia and Singapore have banned Chinese milk imports.
At home, consumer outrage is growing. Beijing has ordered free medical treatment for any baby sickened by tainted formula, and hotlines for worried parents have been set up in eight provinces, Xinhua reports. Central government has also extended testing of dairy products and recalls, and promised exemplary punishments for company executive and officials found culpable.
The death toll now stands at four infants, with dozens of babies still in serious condition among the more than 6,200 stricken with kidney stones after consuming tainted formula.
Nearly 10% of milk and drinking yoghurt samples from three leading dairy companies contained melamine, according to the General Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection. None of which will help shore up public trust at home or abroad already shaken by a series of food scares in recent years involving eggs, pork and seafood.
The scope of the melamine-contaminated baby milk scandal continues to widen. Batches of tainted formula have now been found produced by 22 companies across China, according to TV reports, here via AFP.
This will shift the focus from Sanlu Group, which has been criticised for being slow to recall the affected products, to the milk brokers who buy from farmers to sell to agribusinesses like Sanlu and who are thought to have been the ones adding the melamine so their milk appears to have a higher protein content. It will also put a spotlight on more local and provincial health authorities.
Meanwhile, Xinhua is reporting that Sanlu’s chairwoman and general manager Tian Wenhua has been sacked from both her day job and as secretary of the Party’s corporation committee.
Two babies have died and 1,253 are stricken with kidney stones as a result of tainted milk powder, the Health ministry now says. Fifty-three of the sick babies are in critical condition. Most of the cases have occurred in Hebei, Jiangsu and Gansu provinces. The two deaths were in Gansu.
This is a big jump in numbers from those previously reported. Officials say as many as 10,000 infants may have drunk the contaminated formula.
The ministry’s candor stands in contrast with the company’s lengthy delay in alerting the public to the problem that we noted yesterday. Helen Clark, New Zealand’s prime minister, said earlier today that it wasn’t until after Fonterra, the New Zealand agricultural co-operative that is a minority shareholder in the dairy involved, Sanlu Group, alerted the New Zealand government and it in turn contacted Beijing through diplomatic channels, that any action was taken.
None of which makes it sound as if the product-safety systems put in place after the alarms about tainted food, toy, toothpaste and other exported products have taken root.
Reports are now emerging that the dairy at the center of the tainted baby milk affair, Sanlu Group, knew that their product contained melamine six weeks before ordering a recall. The affected milk powder has been linked to kidney stones in more than 430 babies.
New Zealand farming group, Fonterra Co-operative Group, which owns 43% of Sanlu, said it urged the company to recall the product on August 2nd. Health ministry officials complained they were not alerted until Monday, even though Sanlu received complaints as early as March and company tests in August found the milk powder contained melamine, a chemical used in plastics that is banned in food products. The recall was announced on Thursday.
The incident is proving especially embarrassing to China as it has made efforts to overhaul its product safety system following international problems with tainted toothpaste, faulty tires, toys and other goods. Sanlu, as a leading company in its industry, is expected to be a role model for safety and quality.
Product safety standards are back in the news with the recall of tainted baby milk. Melamine has been added to milk powder that has been linked to kidney stones in more than 400 infants. Nineteen people have been detained in connection with the incidents and a wide ranging investigation is underway. The dairy involved, Sanlu Group, has been ordered to stop production by the Health Ministry. Some of the tainted milk powder was exported to Taiwan, but to no other foreign markets.