Chinese authorities kept food safety concerns about a Shanghai dairy a secret for nearly a year before announcing last week that the company had been shut for producing tainted milk, an official said yesterday.
Shanghai Panda Dairy was shut down and put on a “black list” during the tainted milk scandal in 2008, in which at least six infants died and nearly 300,000 were made sick by milk products laced with melamine, a toxic chemical.
Its products were found to have the second-highest levels of melamine in the country, behind the now bankrupt Sanlu Group, the Shanghai Daily reported last week.
Authorities had allowed Panda Dairy to resume production, but it reused tainted condensed milk that had been recalled from the market, a spokesman for Shanghai prosecutors said.
Three executives could face trial as early as next month, prosecutors said: the general manager of Shanghai Panda Dairy and his two deputies.
“Illegally high” levels of melamine were found in the company’s powdered and condensed milk, the prosecutors’ spokesman said.
“We will file the case with the court in around half a month,” the spokesman said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the case.
The three — who face charges of producing and selling toxic and hazardous food — could face trial before the end of next month.
He conceded that government inspectors had discovered the products contaminated with melamine, which gives the appearance of a higher protein content, months before Chinese media first reported the dairy’s closure last week.
“The case was uncovered quite early, actually,” the spokesman said.
“Quality supervision authorities found the problem in a February to April inspection. The case was then handed to the police in April and the related people were detained by the police in April,” he said.
He did not comment on why authorities waited so long to make the investigation public, but Chinese media have suggested the case was concealed out of fear that the revelations could damage China’s economic recovery.
A total of 21 people have been convicted for their roles in the 2008 melamine scandal. Two were executed, while a former Sanlu boss received life in prison.
China enacted a law early last year promising tougher penalties for makers of tainted food that also says authorities should immediately inform the public when food products have been found unsafe for consumption.
One other person was given a suspended death sentence, a punishment that is routinely commuted to life imprisonment, while 15 others were jailed for two to 15 years.
Sanlu, once one of China’s largest dairy manufacturers, went bankrupt last year after having amassed US$161 million in debt, Xinhua reported at the time.
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