02/05/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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Melamine-tainted milk scandal widens, more dairies involved

The authorities shut down more dairies and arrest more company officials. Media report that other companies are still producing tainted milk. The authorities order media to report only officially sanctioned news. Victim rights’ activist is still jail.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Lekang Dairy officials have been jailed in Weinan (Shaanxi) on charges of producing melamine-tainted milk. At the same time, the authorities continue to harass people who complain about the scandal or demand justice for the six children who died and the 300,000 who were poisoned by the tainted milk.

Lekang Dairy’s general manager, production director, sales manager and a supplier were detained late last month, Shaanxi Public Security Bureau deputy chief Xu Qiang said at a press conference on Wednesday.  

The company was shut down, and the four officials were arrested for selling 28 tonnes of tainted milk powder.

In the wake of it, the Ministry of Health ordered an urgent recall of dozens of tonnes of milk powder after it was found to contain high traces of a toxic chemical.

Yesterday, Health Ministry officials accused another company, Tiantian Dairy of intentionally making and selling melamine-tainted milk.

Melamine is an industrial chemical used to manufacture plastics. Their molecules are similar to proteins so that when added to milk it can pass protein tests. However, in humans it can be poisonous. In the fall of 2008, several Chinese dairies were caught making wide use of the substance.  A number of babies were killed as a result and hundreds of thousands more suffered irreversible damage.  

Beijing ordered a new crackdown on Monday against at least six manufacturers in Shanghai, Shaanxi, Ningxia, Shandong, Liaoning and Hebei. Even after that, Tiantian Dairy was found to be still in operation.

The authorities are concerned about too much media attention as well. Officials in Guangdong have banned independent reporting on the latest toxic food scandal involving melamine, and ordered the media to “only use information formally released by the authorities".

In the meantime, Kidney Stone Babies support group founder Zhao Lianhai remains in jail. He set up the support group to defend the rights of tainted-milk victims and their families as well as protest the government’s meagre compensation.

Victims’ families are planning protests and preparing a petition to send to Beijing to demand the activist’s release.

Mr Zhao, who was arrested in December, is charged with “provoking quarrels and making trouble”. According to the authorities, he “maliciously spread speculation, incited and gathered crowds” to protest outside courthouses when cases were heard against milk companies.

The authorities have convicted and even executed some dairy company officials, but have ignored demands for justice for the victims.

Families are still outraged and many have not even received the paltry compensation and medical treatment promised by the government.

The courts have always rejected their demands for compensation even when the damage was irrefutable.

For many, the new scandal shows that the government is more concerned about hushing up the whole affair than taking the right steps to prevent its reoccurrence.

In September 2009, police arrested several parents to prevent them from marching in protest on the first anniversary of the scandal.

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Melamine-tainted milk: more deaths and sick than official data show
17/11/2008
Beijing pulls all pre-14 September dairy products off the shelves
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Melamine also in exported Chinese milk, Asian countries enact bans
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