10/11/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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China, poisoned milk: death penalty for those who break the law

The punishment is stipulated by a new norm regulating production in the dairy industry. It involves the entire chain of production, from individual farmers to the point of sale. While the government announces stiff penalties and new research funds, parents are finding it almost impossible to receive justice.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The death penalty for those who violate food laws: this is the provision of a new Chinese law announced yesterday by the state council. The provision is intended to regulate the dairy industry in particular, which has been rocked by the melamine scandal, and to bring new trust for Chinese products on the world market.

According to the norm, the punishment will apply to anyone who works in the dairy industry: from the farmer, to the producer, to the distributor, to the final vendor. There are heavy penalties for those who break the law, especially for those who poison products for children, up to the death penalty provided for those who "deliberately add illegal substances to fresh milk."

But this stance will not bring the dead children back to their parents, nor will it help to cure those who have been poisoned: more than 53,000 according to the latest figures, although the number could be much higher. The relatives of the victims, however, have been denied their right to seek justice and obtain compensation, while the courts seem to be ignoring the lawsuits filed by some lawyers. "Parents are angry. What they need is justice," says Ji Cheng, a Beijing lawyer who has filed a lawsuit against Sanlu, in the province of Henan.

The law regulating the quality of dairy products, announced yesterday by the government, is the first to be put in place by the government in the industry after the recent scandals, and provides for oversight of more than 60 sectors, from animal feed to the supermarkets. It requires that nothing be added - whether natural or chemical, harmless or toxic - to alter the purity of milk-based products.

For its part, the central government has promised more funding for research to improve product testing, and calls upon local officials and provincial governors to communicate quickly any problem related to food, holding them responsible if they do not.

This scenario has already been seen in the past with SARS, when efforts were made to cover up the scandal, followed by repressive action once the scandal exploded and became public knowledge. Then, like today, this generated significant concerns about China's integrity.

News agencies and media outlets are working to improve the country's image: according to Xinhua, the official voice of the party, recent tests on milk have all produced negative results. The analyses are said to have examined more than 113 products based on powdered milk, from 20 different companies in nine provinces. Similar tests have been conducted on fresh milk. China Daily has published a survey according to which the sale of dairy products has returned to a level similar to before the scandal, almost 80% of full market volume.

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