China reported on Monday the death of a second infant from tainted milk powder, while police said they arrested two traders for selling contaminated milk. The infected formula milk has left hundreds of babies ill.
China on Monday reported a second baby dead from drinking tainted milk formula and said the number sickened had soared past 1,200 as it blamed private milk-collecting stations for the worsening scandal.
The New Zealand partner to the Chinese company Sanlu at the centre of the storm went further, blaming the contamination on "sabotage".
The two deaths came in the northwestern province of Gansu after the babies drank Sanlu brand formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, vice health minister Ma Shaowei told a news conference.
The first death was reported last week.
Ma also said the number of babies sickened nationwide had leapt to 1,253, more than double the 580 reported by state press earlier in the day, and that hospitals had been ordered to go all-out to save sick babies.
"Emergency medical treatment of affected infants must become our top priority," he said, adding that 53 children were in serious condition.
"We must use all our power to protect their health and safety... slow the rate of serious cases as much as possible, and prevent further deaths."
Sanlu issued a public apology Monday for the scandal and pledged to recall all the affected milk powder.
"The serious safety accident of the Sanlu formula milk powder for infants has caused severe harm to many sickened babies and their families. We feel really sad about this," said the group's vice president Zhang Zhenling.
"Sanlu Group expresses its most sincere apology to you."
Sanlu has blamed dairy farmers, according to reports, but the state-controlled China Daily said all 19 people detained so far in a probe into the scandal were from the collecting stations, which pick up milk from dairy farmers.
"We believe the contamination is more likely to have occurred at milk-collecting stations," than at dairy farms, it quoted Li Changjiang, who heads the nation's quality-control watchdog, as saying.
The Xinhua news agency said two brothers in northern China's Hebei province who were among those detained had been formally arrested for allegedly selling three tonnes of contaminated milk per day from their station.
Melamine, which is used for making plastics and glues, may have been added to make the milk appear that it contained more protein than it did, Chinese media have suggested.
The chemical has caused kidney stones, which are normally rare in babies and give rise to a range of infant health risks.
The two infant deaths occurred in May and July, the health ministry said.
Its medical department director, Wang Yu, brushed off suggestions the ministry had been slow to react.
"First, we received no reports of those cases at the time," he said.
"Second, it would have been very difficult to imagine at the time that they were due to (drinking contaminated milk formula)."
In Gansu province, Chinese inspectors found melamine in samples selected at random from Haoniu Dairy Co., a partner of Sanlu Group but which produces under the Sanlu trademark, according to Xinhua.
"The products of Haoniu have been sealed up," Gansu Vice Governor Xian Hui told the agency.
Sanlu, in which New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra has a 43 percent stake, is a relatively inexpensive brand favoured by poor rural women.
Millions of them leave their babies at home to seek work in cities and so are unable to breastfeed.
Fonterra's chief executive Andrew Ferrier blamed the contamination on third-party "sabotage" of milk supplied to Sanlu.
Speaking to New Zealand reporters by video from Singapore, he said Fonterra had known of the contamination in early August and pushed for an immediate recall but Sanlu had to abide by Chinese rules.
"We, together with Sanlu, have done everything that we possibly could to get the product off the shelf," Ferrier said.
Asked why Fonterra had not gone public earlier, he said: "We as a minority shareholder had to continue to push Sanlu. Sanlu had to work with their own government to follow the procedures that they were given."
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said her government learned of the contamination problem on September 5, then "blew the whistle" three days later by informing Beijing after local Chinese officials refused to act.
Date created : 2008-09-15