Sun, Jan 03, 2010 - Page 1 News List

China shuts down melamine-tainted milk powder plant

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SHANGHAI, CHINA

Chinese authorities shut down a dairy producer in Shanghai and arrested three of its executives after tests showed the company was producing milk powder contaminated with melamine, the same industrial chemical that in 2008 was blamed for one of the country’s worst food safety scandals.

The announcement came just over two weeks after three other men were arrested at a dairy company in Shaanxi Province for producing milk powder tainted with melamine.

The arrests suggest that regulators are more aggressively monitoring the dairy market after six children died and more than 300,000 others were sickened by melamine-tainted milk in the summer and fall of 2008.

That scandal was a huge embarrassment for China and its regulators, and led to international bans on imports of Chinese-made dairy goods, including eggs, cookies and candy.

The recent cases also suggest that even after 20 of the country’s biggest dairy producers were blamed for allowing melamine to taint their products in 2008, and even after several people were jailed and executed for their role in the scandal, the chemical continues to seep into the nation’s dairy goods.

In Shanghai, city inspectors closed Shanghai Panda Dairy Co (上海熊貓乳品公司) on Thursday for producing milk that had “unacceptably high levels” of melamine, state-run news media reported.

Shanghai officials said the melamine turned up in routine inspections in condensed, high-calcium milk powder that was marketed to middle-aged and elderly consumers.

Chinese law allows just a little over 1mg of melamine to be present in every 0.45kg of food product — any more threatens to cause kidney stones and other ailments, particularly in children.

The government said that Shanghai Panda was one of the companies on the government’s melamine blacklist after the 2008 scandal, recording some of the highest levels of contamination, but the company was allowed to resume production after promises to strengthen its safety procedures.

Most of the country’s large dairy companies suffered huge losses in 2008 because of their roles in the scandals.

Calls to Shanghai Panda’s office in Shanghai were not answered.

A Chinese Web site lists Shanghai Panda as a subsidiary of Zhejiang Panda Dairy Co (浙江熊貓乳品公司), though the relationship could not be confirmed.

Shanghai officials, though, said a sister company, Ningxia Panda Dairy Co (寧夏熊貓乳品公司), in western China, was also being investigated because it was believed to have supplied some of the raw material for the milk powder and condensed milk.

The government said that batches of the tainted product were seized in Shanghai and that officials were sent to seven regions to locate other batches, but the government did not indicate where those regions were and no recall has been announced.

Shanghai Panda’s general manager, deputy general manager and corporate representative were all arrested, the Shanghai Daily state-run newspaper reported.

In the case earlier last month, police arrested three men in Shaanxi Province for shipping 5 tonnes of melamine-tainted milk powder to Guangxi Province.

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