China considering compensation for milk victims
BEIJING (Reuters) - China is considering compensation for victims sickened or killed by toxic infant milk formula, a government spokesman said, following months of contention over stricken families with unmet demands for redress.
But a lawyer pressing for open redress denounced the plan.
Chinese authorities recently said six children died and 290,000 children suffered "urinary system abnormalities," apparently after consuming Sanlu-brand milk powder and a "handful of other milk powder brands with problems."
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health, Mao Qun'an, said the "relevant departments are now assessing a compensation plan for the Sanlu infant milk powder incident," according to the Ministry website (www.moh.gov.cn) on Wednesday.
Mao told a news conference that the Ministry was compiling information about the victims who may receive compensation, according to the website.
The Sanlu dairy group, partly owned by New Zealand's Fonterra group, sold milk powder contaminated with an industrial chemical, melamine, that caused kidney stones and other agonising complications in infants. Melamine can be used to cheat quality checks, by producing false readings for protein levels.
But a Beijing lawyer seeking compensation for stricken children said the government plan would not satisfy families' thirst for open accountability.
"This plan is being developed behind closed doors. The victims and their lawyers should be involved in setting the rules for compensation," said Li Fangping, the lawyer.
"The traditional bureaucratic dominance of these issues hasn't changed...So I have big doubts about this plan."
Li said that when he and other volunteer lawyers went to a court in Sanlu's home city, Shijiazhuang, this week seeking to sue the company, a court official said their legal papers would not be processed.
"Clearly, the government does not want these problems aired in the courts, open to the public," Li said.
Chinese media first reported in September that babies had fallen ill from the formula. But officials have since acknowledged that the Sanlu Group, the main source of the tainted milk, and officials hid the problem for many months.
Families of children killed and sickened have turned to volunteer lawyers, threatening to sue Sanlu and perhaps others. But their efforts have been stymied by authorities, apparently worried that court cases could inflame public anger over the scandal.
The scandal has also prompted bans and extra checks on Chinese milk and food products in dozens of export markets, and melamine has been found in a range of products, from candy to eggs.
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