Another senior official in the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang has been sacked and two more suspects arrested as a tainted baby milk powder scandal spreads around the country.
Ji Chuntang was removed from his post as vice secretary of the Shijiazhuang Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), said a CPC Hebei Provincial Committee spokesperson on Wednesday.
He will also be dismissed as Shijiazhuang mayor according to legal procedures.
In addition, Tian Wenhua, the sacked board chairwoman and general manager of the Sanlu Group, was detained and questioned by police along with 21 others, Shi Guizhong, a Hebei Provincial Public Security Department spokesman told a press conference here on Wednesday.
The dairy giant Sanlu based in the Hebei provincial capital Shijiazhuang was the first company exposed in the tainted milk powder scandal. It is 43 percent owned by New Zealand dairy company Fonterra and has been ordered to halt production.
More than 6,200 infants across the country had developed kidney stones after drinking Sanlu's tainted baby formula, including three fatally, Health Minister Chen Zhu told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday. The chemical melamine was added to the milk as it was believed to have helped to increase protein content.
The health ministry dispatched medical specialists to hospitals nationwide to help treat sick babies. Medical institutions were required to provide infant patients with free treatment and to report the number of tainted milk powder victims on a daily basis.
"We spared no efforts in providing medical treatment for the infant patients," Chen said. "Generally speaking, those efforts have proven to be orderly and effective."
"Infant patients, even those in critical condition, can recover from the tainted milk powder-induced diseases if they receive timely treatment."
Earlier on Tuesday, four officials in Shijiazhuang were fired. They included Zhang Fawang, vice mayor in charge of agricultural production; Sun Renhu, the Shijiazhuang Municipal Animal Husbandry and Fishery Bureau director; Zhang Yi, Shijiazhuang Municipal Food and Drug Administration director; and Li Zhiguo, Shijiazhuang Municipal Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision director.
The number of arrests connected to the baby milk powder scandal has risen to six with the apprehension of two more suspects in Shijiazhuang -- two villagers were charged with selling the chemical melamine and adding it to milk sold to Sanlu, local police spokesman Shi Guizhong told reporters on Wednesday.
The two men arrested were identified as a 52-year-old resident surnamed Hu from Yangjiazhai Village, Beizheng Township in Shijiazhuang's Yuanshi County, and a 58-year-old surnamed Bian from Chengdongqiaoxi Village, Dahe Township in Shijiazhuang's Luquan City, Shi said.
Hu, who owns a dairy farm in his village, confessed he sold 80 kg of melamine to a manager surnamed Zhao at a cattle company in Dahe Township in April.
Both had sold milk to Sanlu, therefore, they got to know each other, Shi said, adding Zhao had been arrested.
Bian, a veterinarian and a deputy factory director of Zhao's company, confessed Zhao told him to add the chemical to milk sold to Sanlu.
Police also arrested a 41-year-old surnamed Su, an owner of a private food additive shop in Luancheng County in Shijiazhuang, accusing him of selling melamine to Hu and other milk dealers, Shi said.
Among the arrested, two others were brothers surnamed Geng in Shijiazhuang's Zhengding County. They told police they had been selling 3 tons of contaminated milk daily since the end of last year.
The elder Geng said they added the chemical to the milk to make it appear to contain more protein. He added they had suffered losses after their milk had been rejected several times by Sanlu Group for failing to meet quality standards.
Also Wednesday, more brands of baby formula were pulled off shelves nationwide as more milk powder producers had been discovered to be involved in the scandal.
Market watchdogs in different provinces ordered the halt of sales, production and a recall of the milk powder brands blacklisted by the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).
AQSIQ said on Tuesday it had carried out test samples involving 491 batches of products sold by all 109 companies that produced baby milk powder in the country. The inspectors found melamine in 69 batches of baby milk powder produced by 22 companies.
Among them, the Mengniu Dairy (Group) Co. and Yili Industrial Group Co. Ltd., two well-known publicly-listed dairy companies based in the northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region issued written apologies on Wednesday to consumers over the tainted baby formula scandal. Mengniu promised to pay double the state-set compensation to victims.
Yili said it had recalled all the unsold contaminated baby formula for children three to six years after it was told of the inspection result by AQSIQ on Tuesday.
"For consumers who have bought this problematic batch of children formula, please feel free to contact us to return it," the company said said in the apology.
Mengniu also promised in a written statement to take back all its contaminated baby formula products, adding it would bear all the costs of doing so.
The company said baby milk powder production lines were halted and changes in production would take place, without specifying what they would be.
In a vaguely-worded statement, Mengniu also said it would pay double the state-set compensation amount to all consumers who fell ill within five years of consuming the three types of contaminated baby formula products made by the firm.
Yili dropped by the daily 10 percent limit on Wednesday to 12.09 yuan (1.76 U.S. dollars) in Shanghai, while Mengniu was suspended from trading in Hong Kong.
(Xinhua News Agency September 17, 2008)