China sets up national food safety commission

  • World
  • Wednesday, 10 Feb 2010

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has set up a national food safety commission, headed by a powerful vice premier, who at the watchdog's first meeting set his sights on the persistent problem of dangerously tainted milk, state media said on Wednesday.

Li Keqiang, tipped to take Premier Wen Jiabao's place in three years, ordered inspectors to trace and destroy all milk products tainted with melamine, an industrial compound that killed at least six children in 2008, the People's Daily said.

A number of cases of milk contaminated with melamine have surfaced in the past few months, some apparently old batches of tainted powder slated for destruction but hoarded away instead by dairy firms and later repackaged.

The scandal in 2008 destroyed the credibility of China's dairy industry and seriously damaged the "made in China" brand internationally. The government also feared furious parents of children made ill by the contaminated milk could pose a threat to stability.

Beijing police in December arrested a father active in organising these parents. Zhao Lianhai was charged with "picking quarrels and provoking trouble".

The government says it has compensated affected families and promised consumers to guarantee their milk was safe in future.

But food quality watchdogs in northwestern Shaanxi province are now under fire after they failed to discover melamine in a batch of milk powder later seized by authorities in another province, the China Daily reported on Wednesday.

Inspectors also shut dairy firms in northwestern Ningxia region last weekend, seized 72 tonnes of poisoned milk powder and warned that nearly 100 tonnes may still be on shop shelves.

The northeastern province of Liaoning also shut three ice cream companies last week for using melamine-tainted materials.

There have been no reported deaths or illnesses from the latest batches of contaminated milk. About 300,000 children sought medical treatment, many with kidney stones, in the 2008 scandal.

The scandal forced the resignation of China's top food safety official, Li Changjiang, who has since been made deputy director of China's high-profile anti-pornography campaign.

(Reporting by Yu Le and Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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