12 more held in China dairy scandal

Beijing, September 18:

Chinese police arrested 12 more suspects today in a widening scandal over tainted milk powder that has made thousands of babies ill and caused at least four deaths, state media said.

The new arrests came in a police “sweep” in the northern city of Shijiazhuang where the dairy manufacturer at the centre of the scandal, Sanlu Group, is based, Xinhua news agency said. Eighteen people have now been arrested over the scandal.

Chinese officials have said the affected babies suffered kidney problems after drinking milk powder containing the industrial chemical melamine.

Normally used in plastics, melamine was illegally mixed into milk and made its way into the baby formula of 22 Chinese dairy firms, authorities said this week, months after babies first started falling ill.

The chemical was apparently introduced to give watered-down milk the appearance of having high protein levels.

Twelve of those arrested were milk dealers suspected of selling contaminated milk, while the other six sold melamine, the state media added.

Police yesterday also detained former Sanlu chairwoman Tian Wenhua, who was sacked this week, under a law banning the production and sale of unsafe food products.

She has not been formally arrested, according to the reports.

Xinhua reported earlier today that the mayor of Shijiazhuang, Ji Chuntang, had also been stripped of his post over the crisis.

China has endured a litany of scandals in recent years over production of unsafe foods and a wide range of other goods that have been exported, including drugs and toys.