says 300,000 babies sickened by tainted milk
Capital Press by Gillian Wong 12/2/08
BEIJING - China has dramatically raised the toll from its
tainted milk powder scandal, saying six babies likely died and
300,000 were sickened, figures that back up months of
complaints from parents and show the government is beginning
to acknowledge the scale of the crisis.
The scandal has been met with public dismay and anger,
particularly among parents who feel the government breached
their trust after their children were sickened or died from
drinking infant formula authorities had certified as safe.
The Health Ministry's revised death toll is twice the previous
figure, while the new count of 294,000 babies who suffered
urinary problems from drinking contaminated infant formula is
a six-fold increase from the last tally in September.
"Most of the sickened children received outpatient treatment
for only small amounts of sand-like kidney stones found in
their urinary systems, while some patients had to be
hospitalized for the illness," the ministry said in a
statement late Monday.
The latest statistics show that China's communist leaders are
slowly acknowledging the scale of China's worst food safety
scare in years. During such crises, the government often
deliberately releases information piecemeal in part to keep
from feeding public anger.
Thousands of parents have been clamoring for compensation for
their sickened and dead children. The release of the figures
raises the question of whether the Health Ministry is getting
closer to finalizing a compensation scheme.
"The new figures are more realistic and objective than
previous figures. We knew the previous ones could not have
been accurate," said Chang Boyang, a Beijing lawyer who has
provided legal assistance to families of children who became
Four of the six deaths were recorded in the provinces of
Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Guizhou and Shaanxi, and the other two were
in Gansu province in the northwest, the ministry said.
The ministry said it investigated 11 possible deaths related
to melamine-tainted milk and ruled five of them out. Melamine
poisoning could not be ruled out in the remaining six cases,
it said but gave no further details or explanation. It also
did not make clear whether three earlier reported deaths were
included in the new total.
The ministry said it checked into babies who died before Sept.
10, and that between then and last Thursday, no new deaths
The ministry declined phone interviews Tuesday and did not
respond to faxed questions from The Associated Press.
There are other families who say their children died from
drinking milk powder made by Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group Co., the
dairy at the center of the crisis, but their cases were
apparently still not classified as caused by tainted formula.
Without the official verdict, families fear they will be
refused compensation promised by the government through the
Health Ministry, which has also said it would provide free
medical treatment for children sickened by tainted milk. Some
parents expressed pessimism about receiving compensation
promised by the government.
"I've talked with a lawyer and at first we wanted lots of
compensation, but later we agreed to settle for a much smaller
amount, although I wasn't happy. But now even that seems
impossible as nobody has ever talked to us about it," said
apple farmer Tian Xiaowei of Shaanxi province, whose year-old
boy died in August.
"The economy in this country is bad now, I don't think the
Communist Party will take care of our problem," Tian said.
The health bureau of Ru'nan county where he is from first
ruled his son died from tainted milk powder, but a higher
authority said there was no proof his death was linked to
infant formula, Tian said.
The attorney Chang said there was still no word of
compensation, and the group of volunteer lawyers he belongs to
was considering starting a fund to help the victims' families,
with contributions from all sectors and the public.
"I assume that the government is worried about the situation
of the dairies and is afraid the companies may fall if they
have to pay for the compensation amid the current financial
crisis," Chang said. "The government may be worrying about the
interests of the companies first."
The scandal was first reported in September, but the
government has said that Sanlu, the dairy, knew as early as
last year that its products were tainted with melamine and
that company and local officials first tried to cover it up.
Like a number of major dairies, Sanlu was said to have
excellent quality controls that allowed it to enjoy a
government-granted inspection-exempt status.
The scandal highlighted the widespread practice of adding
melamine - often used in manufacturing plastics - to
watered-down milk to fool protein tests. Melamine is rich in
nitrogen, which registers as protein on many routine tests.
Though melamine is not believed harmful in tiny amounts,
higher concentrations produce kidney stones, which can block
the ducts that carry urine from the body, and in serious cases
can cause kidney failure.
The crisis prompted authorities to announce a complete
overhaul of the country's dairy industry to improve safety.
The scare badly hit dairy exports, which fell 92 percent in
October from the previous year as snags in the supply chain
forced a loss in orders, and importers became wary of Chinese
food products, the official China Daily newspaper reported.
The Associated Press