China detains 6 more suspects in milk scandal; high melamine levels found in Cadbury items


By GILLIAN WONG, AP

BEIJING — Chinese authorities detained six more people in the country’s contaminated milk scandal amid increasingly strenuous efforts to restore public trust in Chinese-made food products.

The suspects were detained in Hohhot, in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region, for allegedly mixing the industrial chemical melamine into raw milk, a city spokeswoman said Monday.

The spokeswoman, who refused to give her name as is common with Chinese bureaucrats, said the six were being interrogated. She declined to say when the detentions took place or give other details.

The arrests followed an investigation into two major Chinese milk companies based in Inner Mongolia, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The move brings the number of people being held in connection with the scandal to 32.

Word of the detentions came a day after health officials in Hong Kong found high levels of melamine, a chemical used to make plastic and fertilizers, in chocolate made in China by British candy maker Cadbury.

Milk powder containing melamine has been blamed for killing four babies and sickening more than 54,000 children with kidney stones and other illnesses in China.

The scandal has sparked global concern about Chinese food imports and recalls in several countries of Chinese-made products including milk powder, cookies and candies.

In Hong Kong, officials said Sunday they found melamine in samples of two chocolate products made by Cadbury at its Beijing factory. The chocolates are among 11 Chinese-made products already recalled by the company in parts of Asia and the Pacific.

Hong Kong’s Center for Food Safety said Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Hazelnut Chocolate Bulk Pack contained 56 parts per million of melamine, while Dairy Milk Cookies Chocolate contained 6.9 parts per million. The city’s legal limit for melamine is 2.5 parts per million.

Calls to Cadbury offices in London and the Asia-Pacific went unanswered Sunday.

In Iran, the Health Ministry said it has imposed a ban on imports of dairy products from China until further notice, according to state radio. The ministry has assigned health workers to destroy suspect Chinese dairy products on the Iranian market.

China has struggled to contain public dismay and growing international concern over the latest scandal, castigating local officials for negligence while promising to raise product safety standards.

China’s quality watchdog said Sunday no melamine was found in tests of milk powder produced after Sept. 14, when the melamine contamination scandal broke.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said tests of 129 batches of baby formula and 212 batches of other kinds of milk powder turned up no signs of melamine contamination.

Quality supervisors have been stationed in baby milk powder production facilities since the scandal broke to oversee the process.

Chinese authorities believe suppliers trying to boost output diluted their milk, adding melamine because its nitrogen content can fool tests measuring protein content.

The Agriculture Ministry, meanwhile, said it is providing subsidies to Chinese dairy farmers badly hit by declining demand for milk. Many farmers have been tossing out raw milk as they are squeezed by feed costs they cannot recoup because of waning demand.

The ministry’s statement did not give details of the subsidy plan.