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Two sentenced to death in tainted milk verdict

Article published on the 2009-01-22 Latest update 2009-01-22 12:34 TU

A woman, whose child died from drinking tainted milk, holds a sign reading 'Give me back my child' outside the court(Credit: Reuters)

A woman, whose child died from drinking tainted milk, holds a sign reading 'Give me back my child' outside the court
(Credit: Reuters)

A Chinese court sentenced two men to death on Thursday and handed down stiff jail terms to 10 others over a milk scandal that led to the widespread poisoning of babies in China. At least six babies were killed last year from the contaminated milk and 294,000 others fell ill with kidney and urinary tract problems. The scandal led to contaminated Chinese dairy products being pulled off shelves around the world.

Earlier the court sentenced Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping to death. Zhang was accused of running an illegal workshop in eastern China, producing 600 tonnes of the fake protein powder, while Geng, a milk producer, was convicted of producing and selling toxic food to dairy companies.

Tian Wenhua, 66, is the head of Sanlu Group, which was the biggest supplier of the tainted milk. She was accused of initially covering up the scandal and is among the three people jailed for life.

In all, 22 companies were found to have sold tainted milk which contained a substance called melamine, normally used to make plastics. The melamine was added into watered-down milk to make it look like it had higher protein content.

In all, 21 people have gone on trial in recent weeks for their involvement in making or selling the contaminated milk.

The Chinese government said that it is moving to improve not only its milk industry, but all its food products, following safety scandals in recent years. Beijing made an effort to show that the verdicts were proof that China's food was safe, even though relatives of the victims and foreign press were not allowed into the courtroom.

The tainted milk scandal proved to be a public relations nightmare for China's food export industry, as countries around the world refused to take Chinese food products, and took milk and other items off their shelves.

Last month, the government ordered the 22 Chinese dairy firms to pay 123 million euros in compensation to the families of babies that died or fell ill.

But the families and their lawyers said it is not enough - 200 families have filed a suit with the Supreme court for more compensation. The families have also questioned the fact that no government officials were charged.