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China must probe delays in uncovering milk-scandal: WHO

China said this week that milk powder tainted with the chemical melamine, which used to make plastics, had sickened at least 6,200 babies nationwide and killed four over a period of many months. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Sept 18, 2008
The World Health Organisation on Thursday called for China to find out why it took months for a scandal involving deadly tainted milk powder to become public.

While praising China's response since news of the contaminated products broke last week, WHO China representative Hans Troedsson said authorities must determine why reporting systems appeared to have initially failed.

"(The government) must find out if this was deliberate or due to ignorance," Troedsson said in regards to the delay in the information being made public.

"If due to ignorance, they need to make sure authorities are better educated next time. But if this was deliberately not reported, that is a serious thing and must be addressed to make sure it is not repeated."

Troedsson said he understood the government was already investigating the issue.

However Troedsson praised China's response once the news broke, which has seen authorities tighten supervision of dairy products nationwide.

"Overall, I am very pleased. I think they have responded in a very good way," he said.

China said this week that milk powder tainted with the chemical melamine, which used to make plastics, had sickened at least 6,200 babies nationwide and killed four over a period of many months.

The initial reports of the problem only came to light last week in the Chinese-government controlled media.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said on Monday her government "blew the whistle" to authorities in Beijing after local-level Chinese officials refused to act.

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra has a large stake in Sanlu Group, the Chinese company at the centre of the scandal.

Melamine was illegally mixed into milk products and has been found in the baby formula of Sanlu and 21 other Chinese companies.

It was apparently introduced by dairy suppliers to give the appearance of higher protein levels.

China has a history of cover-ups involving health and safety scandals.

In one of the worst cases, China initially tried to deny the existence of the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, and only owned up after it spilled over into other countries.

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China admits 'flaws' in dairy sector supervision: state TV
Beijing (AFP) Sept 17, 2008
China's government on Wednesday criticised "flaws" in the supervision of the country's dairy sector, state TV said, in an admission of official failures in a tainted baby formula scandal.

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