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Sanlu apologizes for milk powder contamination
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China dairy giant Sanlu Group apologized to the public on Monday for its contaminated milk powder which had sickened 1,253 babies with kidney stones, two fatally.

Zhang Zhenling, Sanlu's vice president, read a letter of apology at a news briefing on Monday afternoon in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei Province, where the corporation is based.

"The serious safety accident of the Sanlu formula milk powder for infants has caused severe harm to many sickened babies and their families. We feel really sad about this," he said while reading the letter to reporters.

"Sanlu Group expresses its most sincere apology to you."

"We solemnly declare we will recall all the infant milk powder produced prior to August 6," Zhang said. "And for those produced after that date, we will also make a recall if consumers have doubts and worries."

Sanlu's baby formula has been found to contain melamine, a chemical raw material believed to cause the condition after baby kidney stone cases were recently revealed in different places across the country.

According to the Ministry of Health, the two deaths in Gansu were a five-month-old boy who died on May 1 after his family refused further treatment and an eight-month-old girl whose family also refused an operation and removed her from hospital on July 22 on which day she died. Both of the two were bred with the Sanlu formula and suffered kidney failure.

Among the more than 1,200 sick babies, 53 had "relatively serious symptoms," the ministry said at a news conference in Beijing on Monday.

Vice Minister of Health Ma Xiaowei said special hospitals had been appointed nationwide to launch treatment for all the infants with the stones.

"With scientific, timely and effective treatment, we will try our best to avoid further deaths." he said.

Sanlu Group began to get complaints about its baby formula milk powder in March and then confirmed the problems through its own investigation. It also took actions to recall some of these products. However, for a long time after that the group didn't report it to the government neither did it reveal the information to the public, according to authorities.

Melamine is used in plastics and other industries and is strictly forbidden in food processing. Experts say it is added into raw milk so that the protein content of the milk appears higher than it is actually.

Police in Hebei have detained 19 people in connection with the scandal.

Two brothers surnamed Geng in Zhengding County, Hebei, told police that they had been selling three tons of contaminated milk per day since the end of last year.

The elder Geng said they added the chemical into the milk to make it appear to contain more protein as they had suffered losses after their milk had been rejected several times by Sanlu Group for failing to meet quality standards.

Geng confessed to police that his family never drank the contaminated milk and he was aware that he was deceiving the Sanlu Group by adding the chemical into milk.

Authorities have so far seized 2,176 tons of milk powder in the warehouse of Sanlu Group. Some 8,218 tons on the market had been recalled, said Shijiazhuang Vice Mayor Li Jinlu on Monday.

Another 700 tons of the milk powder was on their way back to Shijiazhuang, Li added. All the tainted milk powder will be destroyed.

Sanlu, which is 43 percent owned by New Zealand dairy company Fonterra, has been ordered to halt production.

(Xinhua News Agency September 16, 2008)

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