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Chinese pulling through tough time in milk scandal
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Babies were sick, hospitals crowded, consumers puzzled, senior officials sacked, farmers could not sell their milk, dairy firm employees had fears for future -- milk scandal affected the life of many Chinese but they were struggling through it.

A sick infant called Lou Chen receives medical treatment at the Children's Hospital of Zhengzhou in Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan Province, Sept. 17, 2008.

A sick infant called Lou Chen receives medical treatment at the Children's Hospital of Zhengzhou in Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan Province, Sept. 17, 2008.

Ten-month-old Wang Tianhao left hospital after six days of treatment. His mother relieved from scary and worry.

"I was so scared that I couldn't help crying on the first day he was taken into hospital," said the mother Jiang Aihua. The boy had drunk powdered milk containing banned chemical melamine made by Sanlu Group since he was born. Doctors found a stone of about 5mm in diameter in his kidney.

"He is getting better," said Lou Yan, a doctor in charge. "It will take some time to wash the stone out of his body. But he does not need to take any more drugs, just needs to drink a lot of water." She asked Jiang to take her son back home and have an examination next month.

In northern Hebei Province, center of the scandal, about 480 infant patients recovered and left for home by Monday noon while around 1,200 were still in hospital for observation.

Rebuilding trust

Another mother named Wang Lifang was at a loss on what to feed her baby daughter.

Besides Sanlu, 22 other dairy firms were also found to produce tainted milk power later, including several domestic dairy giants.

Some mothers turned to foreign brands for they lost trust on domestic firms. But Wang could not afford it with an annual family income of around 6,000 yuan (882 US dollars). The price of foreign-made baby formula is three to four times of that for domestic products.

Parents tried many substitutes such as fresh milk, soy milk or even rice soup for their babies. Some even stopped feeding any food with milk for their children.

"I don't know what to do. I hope the government can give us a list of safe milk," she said.

To set up trust among customers, many dairy firms involved in the scandal jointly signed a statement promising to produce safe milk and never let this happen again. Police arrested four suspects and had other 22 in custody while Tian Wenhua, former board chairwoman and general manager of Sanlu, was arrested as well.

Several senior officials were dismissed from their posts including Wu Xianguo, the Communist Party chief of Shijiazhuang City, where Sanlu was based. On Monday, China's chief quality supervisor Li Changjiang resigned over milk scandal.

Searching buyers for spilt milk

On the wall of a milk station at Nantongye village, a slogan read, "Want to become rich? Raise fewer kids but more cows."

But villager Li Jufeng was planning to sell all the 13 cows his father raised.

"My dad was hit in a traffic accident two days ago. We need money to pay for his medical cost," said the 32-year-old. "If we keep the cattle, we can sell the milk to nobody and we have to feed them."

Dairy farmers at Nantongye village have long been suppliers of Sanlu, the biggest dairy producer in Hebei and nationwide. The company built five stations in the village to collect fresh milk. Since last Sunday it has stopped buying any milk from farmers as its plants were suspended from production.

Villager Li Zhidong's 18 cows produce about 160 kg of milk a day. In the past week, she had a loss of 330 yuan (48.5 US dollars) per day.

It is now a good news for her that four dairy firms in Hebei have signed agreements with the provincial government to buy 2,500to 3,000 tonnes of milk formerly supplied of Sanlu, a government source told Xinhua.

The local government is also negotiating with Beijing-based Sanyuan Group and Shanghai-based Bright Dairy for milk purchase.

Stand together through crisis

Sanlu elected its new board chairman and general manager Zhang Zhenling on Sept. 18. He has apologized to the public on behalf of the company and promised to deal with the incident properly and lead the group through the crisis.

Employees at the lowest level like Tian, a lady in her mid-thirties, were worried about their uncertain futures.

"I have no idea what will happen," she said. She had worked for Sanlu for 12 years and it was her first job. "What if the company shuts down and I lose this job? I am not young and it will be hard to find a new one. I have aged parents to support and a son in primary school," she said.

But most employees have stood with the company. Tian worked at the company from morning till night including weekends, helping set up booths, hand out notices and answer questions from customers.

"What I can do now is to do my best," she said. "I hope Sanlu could pull through it. "

(Xinhua News Agency September 24, 2008)

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