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China plans production controls for deadly melamine

BEIJING (Reuters) - China plans to impose production controls on melamine, the cheap industrial ingredient at the center of a milk-contamination scandal that shocked China and the rest of the world last year, a newspaper said on Friday.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has circulated for comment draft production permit rules aiming to stem a melamine production glut and stop it from tainting food, the China Chemical Industry News reported.

Melamine is used to maker fertilizers, plastics and other industrial goods but gained notoriety as a cheap additive for milk and other foods. Rich in nitrogen, melamine can be used to fool tests for protein.

At least six young Chinese children died from kidney stones and more than 290,000 were made ill from melamine-contaminated milk formula, battering already dented faith in China-made goods and prompting massive recalls of dairy and other food products around the world.

Tian Wenhua, the former general manager of the now bankrupt Sanlu Group, the company at the heart of the poisoning scandal, has pleaded guilty to charges of “producing and selling fake or substandard products”. She is expected to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

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The Industry Ministry hoped the new rules would end such scandals, the newspaper said.

Until recently, melamine has been widely sold, including over the Internet, for around 10,000 yuan ($1,500) a metric ton. It has also been detected in eggs, chocolates and other foods.

The ministry also aims to shrink the number of melamine producers by setting minimum production levels and strengthening controls on ingredients and waste.

A two-month-old boy died on Sunday after being fed with milk formula made by a Guangdong milk company in eastern Zhejiang province, the Oriental Morning Post reported on Friday.

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The report made no mention of melamine, but authorities were investigating, it said.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie