China Promises Safety Amid Tainted Milk Probe

Head of China's quality watchdog is stepping up checks on its exports as the government tries to restore public trust in Chinese-made food products.

BEIJING (AP) -- China vowed Monday to inspect every link from farm to dinner table in an overhaul of the dairy industry that it called "chaotic" and acknowledged had suffered from a lack of oversight.

As part of China's ongoing effort to restore public trust in its food products, police detained six people for allegedly tampering with milk in northern China, a spokeswoman said, bringing to 32 the number of people arrested in connection with the scandal.

At a meeting of the State Council, or cabinet, the government said it would punish companies and officials involved in the contamination of milk products -- a practice that has been blamed for killing four babies and sickening more than 54,000 children with kidney stones and other illnesses in China.

"The milk product safety incident caused great harm to the health and lives of babies, and also brought a very bad influence over the dairy and food industries," a notice about the meeting on the government's Web site said.

Monday's meeting, chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, is the latest move by the Chinese government, which is scrambling to show it is tackling the widespread contamination of milk powder and other milk products by the industrial chemical melamine.

The tainted milk exposed "that China's dairy production and circulation has been chaotic and supervision has been gravely absent," the notice said. Unlawful "elements" and companies had also put profit above people's lives, it said.

China has struggled to contain public dismay and growing international concern over the latest scandal, castigating local officials for negligence and making arrests while promising to raise product safety standards. But the scandal has continued to lead to recalls and the blocking of Chinese imports in numerous countries.

Iran's Healthy Ministry, for instance, was quoted on state radio Sunday as saying it would ban the import of all Chinese dairy products until further notice.

The six arrested Monday for tampering with milk were being questioned in Hohhot, in northern China's Inner Mongolia region, a city spokeswoman said, refusing to give her name as is common with Chinese bureaucrats. 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, Xinhua said.

The head of China's quality watchdog said the country was stepping up checks on its exports to ensure they conformed to the food safety standards of recipient countries, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

"Food safety concerns not only the health of the public, but also the life of business," Xinhua quoted Wang Yong, the director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, the agency responsible for ensuring that China's food supply chain is safe.

Wang replaced Li Changjiang, who resigned last month in the wake of the scandal. Wang vowed to make "a substantial change in the production and distribution of dairy products."

Part of the agency's cleanup effort was the deployment in mid-September of more than 5,000 inspectors to check dairy factories. Wang said the inspections covered all dairy producers across the country to monitor the entire production process around the clock.

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

Wang's watchdog agency said Sunday that tests showed that no melamine has been found in milk powder produced after Sept. 14, three days after a major dairy at the heart of the scandal recalled 700 tons of baby milk formula.

But the effects of the contamination continued to be felt as 382 more children last week received treatment in Beijing's hospitals for kidney stones, according to the Beijing News, a state-run newspaper.

More than 3,000 children have been treated for kidney stones in Beijing since the scandal broke in early September, the paper said. Calls to the Health Ministry rang unanswered Monday.

Also Monday, Japan ordered the country's farm cooperatives and other industrial groups to increase inspections of animal feed and pet food imported from China to make sure they don't contain melamine, Agriculture Ministry official Satoshi Motomura said.

The order comes days after Beijing said several Chinese feed makers allegedly mixed melamine into their products used for dairy cows. Motomura added, however, that the ministry has so far received no reports of melamine contamination.

On Sunday, health officials in Hong Kong found high levels of melamine in chocolate produced in China by British candy maker Cadbury.

Hong Kong officials said 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 throughout the Asian and Pacific regions.

Associated Press writer Dikky Sinn in Hong Kong contributed to this story.

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