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February 4, 2010

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4 charged in renewed melamine scandal

AUTHORITIES in Shaanxi Province have arrested three men for using expired melamine-laced milk powder as raw material in a local dairy company, one day after a nationwide campaign began to eliminate reappearing melamine-contaminated dairy products.

Police arrested Zhang Wenxue, 49, and Zhu Shuming, 48, both managers of Shaanxi Lekang Dairy Company, on Tuesday. They also arrested Ma Shuanglin, 47, for selling 10 tons of tainted raw materials to the Lekang company.

A vice general manager of the company, Tong Tianhu, who posted bail because of a serious heart disease, will face the same charges, Xu Qiang, of the Shaanxi Provincial Public Security Department, said yesterday.

Xu said some of Lekang's tainted products entered store shelves in south China's Guangdong and Fujian provinces and local authorities are calling them back.

Expired powder

Xu said that Ma sold 10 tons of expired milk powder with a high level of melamine, which he bought from another dairy company, to the Lekang firm in September and October.

Lekang mingled the poisonous milk powder with normal powder to manufacture a total of 32.5 tons of powdered milk. Lekang sold 28 tons of it to a food company in Guangdong Province, Xu said. Quality inspection authorities destroyed the remaining 4.5 tons on January 22, he said.

The food company in Guangdong, in turn, sold the 28 tons to another two companies in Guangdong and Fujian. Part of the tainted milk power was used to produce candies, Xu said.

About 16.5 tons of the tainted milk powder has been retrieved and destroyed by local authorities, he said. Candy products that had been sold are being recalled, and the unsold items have been sealed off, he said.

Police investigation shows that Ma earlier bought a total of 20 tons of melamine-tainted milk powder in 2008 from the Lihua Dairy Company in Shaanxi.

Hidden stash

Ma sold 3.44 tons at retail in 2008, and the rest was found and destroyed on January 15, Xu said.

The raw materials of the newly found products mostly date back to 2008. They were ordered destroyed after the scandal came to light, yet some producers hid them and used them a year later when they thought scrutiny had lapsed.

The tainted material was used to make ice cream and other dairy products, said Chen Zhu, head of the country's Ministry of Health.

The industrial chemical in milk products was blamed for at least six infants' deaths and over 300,000 illnesses in one of the country's most serious food safety scandals.

In November, two people were executed for their role in the scandal, which also resulted in the bankruptcy of dairy producer Sanlu.


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