Tainted Milk Kills 4 Babies in China

Tainted milk scandal leaves another baby dead, and many unanswered questions.

ByABC News
September 18, 2008, 10:32 AM

BEIJING, Sept. 18, 2008 — -- A fourth baby has died in China after developing kidney stones as a result of drinking Sanlu milk powder containing the chemical melamine, used in making plastics, that was added to formula to make it appear to have more protein.

The deaths have reached across this vast country of 1.3 billion people, the latest coming in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

The China Health Ministry says more than 6,000 babies were sickened after drinking the formula, and the number is likely to rise. The government has made a big push to prevent more deaths, but many questions remain unanswered and parents are angry and fearful.

The first cases of kidney stones were reported to local officials back in March.

Last week the Sanlu Group, the largest and most profitable milk powder producer in China, issued an immediate recall of milk formula made before Aug. 6, in the first publicly announced recall.

But officials in China's Health Ministry have said Sanlu knew about the problem six weeks earlier and delayed warning the public. And as early as July, a local TV channel in Hunan reported an unusually high number of infant kidney stone patients.

Why did Sanlu wait to tell the public that thousands of tons of their product were tainted and dangerous to children? The company has issued an apology and the company president has been fired, but Sanlu has yet to answer that question.

China's Internet chat rooms are alive with angry parents airing grievances and demanding answers. Some critics have accused the company of waiting until after the Olympics were over so as not to embarrass itself and the country, thereby putting thousands of young lives at risk.

The central government in China says it was not informed of the problem until last week.

One allegation is that local government officials kept quiet about it, in some cases taking the poisonous powder off supermarket shelves, but not publicly warning parents who may have already been feeding their children the formula.

Sanlu's partner company in New Zealand, Fonterra, said it had pressed for the recall. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Fonterra tried "for weeks to get official recall and the local authorities in China would not do it." Finally, "New Zealand blew the whistle in Beijing," and a "very heavy hand then descended on the local authorities."