China has arrested 12 more people in connection with a scandal over contaminated milk powder. A city mayor was sacked, and thousands of inspectors were sent out to monitor all dairy producers.
The latest figures show four children have died after drinking tainted milk, and more than 6,000 have been affected.
In the Shanghai children's hospital, the human cost of this scandal was clear to see. Anxious parents lined up in the registration hall, holding their precious only children tightly. Many rushed there after hearing the news of the contaminated milk powder to see if their children have been affected by drinking this tainted milk.
"We've done CT scans, ultrasounds, blood tests, plasma tests, urine tests, faecal tests," says Qu Chunli, the grandmother of an 11-month old boy. "It's just torture for the baby."
Hitting Chinese Poor
Qu Chunli has been looking after baby Zhaohang for eight months, feeding him milk formula made by Sanlu, the company whose milk was found to have the highest level of contaminants.
The family traveled 200 miles for the medical tests. They were told baby Zhaohang has stones in his urinary tract. The family had chosen Sanlu because it's a famous Chinese brand. Qu Chunli was beyond angry.
"I hate them, I hate them," she said. "They're killing our children."
The scandal is hitting China's poor. Zhaohang was drinking formula because poverty had forced his mother to leave home to find work. His family could not afford more expensive imported brands.
Sanlu company has issued a televised apology. But it and local officials are accused of a cover-up, since they knew about the problem for at least six weeks before issuing a recall.
And the scandal is snowballing. Tests now show 22 Chinese dairy companies were selling products containing melamine — a chemical normally used in plastics and banned in food products.
National Scandal, National Shame
Last year, Chinese-made pet-food ingredients tainted with melamine killed and sickened thousands of American cats and dogs. But here in China, unethical middlemen have been adding melamine to watered-down milk to make it appear higher in protein.
It's a national scandal, and a matter of national shame.
"The doctors told us not to talk about it," said one mother who was waiting for her baby's ultrasound. "It's an issue for our whole country, and the government is dealing with it."
The tainted products have been removed from supermarket shelves.
This is not China's first milk-powder scandal. Four years ago, at least 12 babies died from malnutrition after drinking fake baby formula that contained no nutrients. Now the government says it will reform the entire dairy industry.
"The scale of this scandal is so extensive, it could lead to a big class-action lawsuit," said consumer lawyer Jiang Xian. "And if such behavior does lead to companies going bankrupt, then it's not necessarily a bad thing."
Outside the hospital, Zhang Ruijun cradled her 11-month-old baby girl. The baby has been drinking Sanlu milk her whole life. Now her mother simply doesn't know which Chinese products are safe.
"How could we have any confidence after what's happened?" she asked.
It's a question many others are asking here, where so many unscrupulous traders put profit before human lives.
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- Inspection in China Finds 23,000 Cases of Bad Food
- Q&A: Why China Tops the FDA Import Refusal List
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