China faces up to horror of tainted baby formula scandal

The man in charge of China's food safety watchdog has resigned over the contaminated baby formula scandal that has left more than 50,000 children sick, four babies dead and the reputation of the Chinese food industry in tatters.

Melamine, used to make plastics and fertiliser, was found in infant formula and other milk products from 22 of China's dairy companies. Suppliers trying to cut costs are believed to have added it to watered-down milk because its high nitrogen content masks the resulting protein deficiency.

Li Changjiang, who headed the Chinese General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine since 2001, resigned as investigators revealed that China's biggest producer of powdered milk, Sanlu Group Co, had received complaints as early as December 2007 linking its infant formula to illnesses in babies, said the Associated Press news agency.

Months later, tests revealed the milk was tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, which causes kidney stones and can lead to kidney failure.

The scandal has shocked China to such an extent that even the country's Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, felt compelled to make a public apology, the BBC stated.

Touring hospitals in the capital Beijing, he was reported to have said he felt "extremely guilty" about the health scandal. "I sincerely apologise to all of you," he added, after visiting sick children. "What we are doing now is to ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again, and we are not only talking about milk. We will never let the same situation repeat with any kind of product."

For more on this, the latest safety crisis to strike China, don't miss the November issue of Functional Ingredients magazine, due out the last week of Oct.,

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