Thursday, January 1, 2009

Guilty Plea Entered in Chinese Tainted Milk Case

The New York Times reports this morning that Tian Wenhua, the former chairwoman of one of China's largest dairy producers, pleaded guilty to selling baby formula tainted with melamine and to knowing about the problem months before reporting it. Here's an excerpt:

Since September, when the scandal became public, investigations have shown how widespread the problem of tainted milk is in China, with watered-down milk being doctored with a chemical used in plastics and fertilizer to falsely raise its protein count. The chemical, melamine, can cause kidney stones and other ailments, and the tainted formula sickened nearly 300,000 children and killed 6.

The government has accused Sanlu and other big Chinese companies of failing to monitor the quality of their powdered baby formula, and in some cases covering up knowledge that their products contained high levels of melamine. The scandal, which follows others in China’s food and drug industries, has devastated the country’s dairy industry, prompted global recalls of suspect food products, and forced the Chinese authorities to try to demonstrate a new seriousness in enforcement.

Ms. Tian’s plea came on the first day of a trial that involves three other Sanlu executives. The court said that consumer complaints about Sanlu’s milk came in as early as December 2007. Ms. Tian said she knew the company was selling contaminated formula by May 2008, but did not report the problem to local government officials until August. Between May and September, when Sanlu stopped production, prosecutors said the company made more than 900 tons of melamine-contaminated powdered formula.


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