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Beijing begins emergency sweep for tainted milk products

Recalled dairy repackaged, back on the market

By Cara Anna
Associated Press / February 3, 2010

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BEIJING - China has launched a 10-day emergency crackdown on tainted milk products after several crept back onto the market despite a massive scandal that sickened hundreds of thousands of children in 2008.

No one knows how many tainted milk products are still on the market, a member of the country’s food safety committee, Chen Junshi, was quoted as saying by the China Daily newspaper yesterday.

The national food safety office has sent eight inspection teams to check products in 16 provinces, an unnamed official said yesterday in a question-and-answer session posted on the Health Ministry’s website.

The sweep that started Monday is being conducted after milk products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine were pulled from shelves in Shanghai and the provinces of Shaanxi, Shandong, Liaoning, and Hebei, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said. Some were recalled in the previous scandal and repackaged.

“In some places, the work to lock up and destroy milk powder from the 2008 scandal has not been thorough enough,’’ the official said yesterday.

At least six children died and more than 300,000 fell sick in the 2008 scandal, where melamine, normally used to make plastics and fertilizer, was added to watered-down milk to fool inspectors testing for protein and increase profits.

At the time, China promised sweeping changes for the country’s food safety. In November, it executed a dairy farmer and a milk salesman to show how serious it took the scandal.

But health concerns peaked again this year after authorities in Shanghai said they secretly investigated a dairy for nearly a year before announcing it had been producing tainted milk products.

The case was especially troubling because Shanghai Panda Dairy Co. was one of the 22 dairies China’s product safety authority named in the 2008 scandal, with its products having among the highest levels of melamine.

China promises a crackdown. “All melamine-tainted milk products will be found and destroyed,’’ Xinhua quoted Health Minister Chen Zhu as saying.