Milk scandal fells product safety chief

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 September, 2008, 12:00am

Watchdog boss takes the blame

The mainland's product safety chief resigned yesterday amid the escalating tainted milk crisis that has made more than 52,000 babies sick and pushed the dairy industry to the brink of collapse.

Li Changjiang is the highest ranking official brought down so far by the dairy contamination scandal.

Beijing yesterday also sacked Shijiazhuang party boss Wu Xianguo for delaying the reporting of the issue to higher authorities and incompetence, Xinhua said.

It said Mr Li, head of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), a ministerial-level position, resigned to take the blame for faulty supervision.

'Since products from numerous dairy companies are found to have contained melamine, [it is obvious] AQSIQ has negligence in supervision. As the leader of the administration, Li Changjiang should take the chief responsibility,' Xinhua said.

Mr Li was replaced by Wang Yong, former deputy secretary general of the State Council and a right-hand man of Vice-Premier Li Keqiang .

This move came after the central government released initial findings of an investigation team sent by the State Council to look into the scandal.

The report blamed dairy giant Sanlu for 'lying about its contaminated baby formula for months while tens of thousands of infants got sick and three died', Xinhua said.

It found that Sanlu had begun receiving complaints as early as December last year but did not carry out any tests to verify these complaints until June.

The investigators also blamed the government of Shijiazhuang - where Sanlu is based - saying the city's leaders learned about the toxic milk in early August but did not report the problem to the provincial government or Beijing.

'They violated rules on reporting major incidents involving food safety,' the investigators' report said.

Mr Wu was replaced by Che Jun, deputy party boss of Hebei . Last week, Beijing fired five senior officials in Shijiazhuang, including mayor Ji Chuntang and vice-mayor Zhuang Fawang.

The investigation team said the person in charge of Sanlu had been detained on criminal offences.

The scandal has not only triggered a massive health and food safety crisis on the mainland, it has once again put made-in-China products under international scrutiny.

The World Health Organisation yesterday urged China to have stricter monitoring of the industry.

Sanlu, whose tainted baby milk formula triggered the crisis, and industry giants Mengniu and Yili, some of whose products were also contaminated, had all been given inspection-free status by AQSIQ. That privilege has been rescinded, but WHO China representative Hans Troedsson stressed it was only a first step and that quality issues could crop up at any point in the supply chain.

'It's clearly something that is not acceptable and needs to be rectified and corrected,' he said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-listed China Mengniu Dairy, suspended from trading since September 17, will resume trading today.