Two more arrests made in China over tainted baby formula

Two more arrests made in China over tainted baby formula Beijing  - Two more milk dealers were arrested in China, bringing the total to four, after two babies died and 1,253 were sickened by baby formula spiked with a toxic chemical, the official Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday.

Twenty-two other people had been detained for questioning, and more arrests were expected, a spokesman for the government of the northern province of Hebei told Xinhua.

The four arrested men are accused of adding melamine to their raw milk to boost its protein content. The milk was then sold to the Hebei-based San Lu Group to produce the baby formula.

Health officials said they expected the number of sick babies to rise as more infants are tested for kidney problems.

Fifty sick children are in critical condition, and reports of ailments linked to the contaminated milk were coming from 10 provinces, autonomous regions and direct-controlled cities.

Government officials said San Lu, which supplies nearly a fifth of China's market with an inexpensive baby formula, knew about the contamination since March but didn't order a national recall of the powder until this week.

The contamination once again threw a shadow over the safety of China's booming food industry, which has been rocked by corruption, scandals and a lack of oversight in the past several years.

In 2007, toxic pet food and melamine-contaminated meat or wheat protein was traced to Chinese producers, and a food scare in Japan in early 2008 involved frozen dumplings imported from China.

Melamine is used as a binding agent and coating for particle, fiber and laminated board. It is also used to make fertilizer.

China's Health Ministry on Tuesday offered free health care to all babies sickened by the formula and dispatched medical experts to local clinics to help with diagnoses and treatment in a bid to prevent further deaths.

San Lu has made a public apology, and Hebei's provincial government announced that more than 10,000 tons of baby formula recalled in the contamination scandal would be destroyed.

Andrew Ferrier - chief executive of the New Zealand dairy cooperative Fonterra, which owns 43 per cent of San Lu - said Monday that his company had urged San Lu at least one month ago to recall the contaminated baby formula.

Reports from Beijing said reasons for the delay were unclear, but speculation abounded that China's authorities might have wanted to cover up the scandal because of the Beijing Olympics. The Beijing authorities only acted after interventions by the New Zealand government last week as local authorities failed to act.

Fonterra said from its Auckland headquarters that its Chinese subsidiary had made a voluntary recall of one batch of prenatal milk sold in China under the Anmum Materna brand name.

"This particular batch had been manufactured and distributed under licence by San Lu using what we believe to be contaminated local raw milk," a spokesman said. He said the batch had been distributed only in mainland China and none had been exported. (dpa)