With speculation rife that former Sanlu Group chairwoman Tian Wenhua will be sentenced to death, observers have warned that could make her a scapegoat and distract from the systemic problems revealed by the melamine-in-milk scandal. Tian, 66, and other top executives of Sanlu - the state-controlled dairy firm at the centre of the scandal - went on trial in Shijiazhuang , Hebei , on Wednesday, charged with producing and selling fake or substandard products. Her trial, the most high-profile yet in a crisis seen as a national disgrace, has led to speculation she could be executed. That prospect, which legal experts vigorously dispute, has been a focus of news reports and discussion in online forums. One observer, Hu Xingdou , a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said that in times of crisis, mainland authorities often picked an individual as a scapegoat instead of looking at what had gone wrong with the system. 'Even if she is executed, can we say for sure there would be no more food scares or other social unrest?' he said. State media reported that Tian and her fellow defendants wept in court as they entered guilty pleas to the charges and confessed that they were alerted to the substandard baby formula as early as May but continued to produce and sell tainted products in full knowledge of the contamination. Sanlu told municipal authorities of the contamination on August 2, but the city kept it under wraps to avoid causing a scandal in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, which opened six days later. The scandal was finally made public in September by a newspaper in distant Gansu province , which said a number of babies had been diagnosed with kidney stones and doctors had traced their condition to Sanlu powdered milk. It had been tainted with melamine so it could pass tests for protein levels. Professor Hu said the key issue was upholding justice. Authorities should learn from the Sanlu scandal and tackle rampant food contamination of a range of food items by allowing media and public scrutiny, he said. Rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong , who represents a group of victims seeking compensation from Sanlu, said its executives should face trial for producing toxic food products - which can result in the death penalty - rather than for making fake or substandard food. But he does not support capital punishment. 'We don't care much about the court verdict as long as it's fair. We want the parents to get proper compensation,' Dr Xu said. Courts have rejected all efforts to file lawsuits against Sanlu and 21 other dairy firms over the tainted milk, which caused renal problems in nearly 300,000 infants, killing six.