Fourth Death, More Arrests in China's Tainted Milk ScandalSep 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that 18 more people are now in police custody, with 12 more arrests taking place yesterday in the tainted baby formula scandal that has rocked China. Over 6,200 babies have fallen ill as result of melamine tainted baby formula , and there has been a fourth death; however, a notice on the government Website did not indicate if the fourth victim was a baby. That death occurred after the person ingested the tainted milk powder. Over 1,300 other children, mostly newborns, remain hospitalized and 158 are suffering from acute kidney failure, according to Health Minister Chen Zhu.
Dozens of parents—some of whom were cradling babies—had congregated outside of the Hebei province headquarters of Sanlu Group Company, the dairy company whose milk powder is linked to most of the illnesses looking for refunds, according to the AP. Outside of Sanlu, the AP reported that one 30-year-old mother said her one-year-old daughter seemed healthy but that she was still worried because of the three major milk powder brands that she usually buys—Yili Industrial Group Co., Mengniu Dairy Co., and Sanlu—all have been recalled. "Of course as a mother, I was really nervous," she said. "Now we have no idea what kind of milk to give the baby. They all have problems."
The paper is reporting that six people are accused of selling melamine and dairy company suppliers are believed to have added the toxic chemical to watered-down milk to make it appear higher in protein. The additional 12 arrests were of milk suppliers accused of selling contaminated milk.
Government officials have begun a 10-day campaign to focus on melamine contamination and police have, thus far, confiscated 660 pounds of suspected chemicals, including 490 pounds of melamine. Also, an additional 87 people were summoned for questioning and 28 people have been detained, according to Shijiazhuang Vice Mayor Zhang Meizhi. One suspect, Su, told police that from February 2007 to July 2008 he bought 200 44-pound sacks of melamine at $29 each, selling them all to milk suppliers.
Although China has promised tighter controls in the wake of recent food safety scares, recalls, and related deaths and illnesses, the effectiveness of these controls is now being questioned. Also, Singapore authorities have recalled an ice cream bar made by Shanghai Yili AB Foods after melamine was found in it yesterday. Singapore said it would conduct tests for contamination on other imported milk and dairy products from China; China's government dispatched thousands of inspectors to monitor milk powder producers. The AP reports that, according to the government’s Website, Premier Wen Jiabao presided over a meeting yesterday of China's Cabinet to back plans for a national inspection of milk products.
Hong Kong newspapers also report that many mainland residents have been crossing the border looking to buy infant milk, but while store owners said stocks were running low, there has been no panic buying baby formula.
This scandal is the second major case of its kind since 2004 when over 200 Chinese babies suffered malnutrition and at least one dozen died after being fed bogus formula containing no nutrients.