October 13, 2008 / 3:05 AM / 11 years ago

China milk scandal companies apologize

BEIJING (Reuters) - Three Chinese dairy companies have publicly apologized for their involvement in a toxic milk scandal that has killed at least four children and led to Chinese-made products pulled from shelves around the world.

A child suffering from kidney stones receives treatment at a hospital in Hefei, Anhui province October 10, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, Mengniu Dairy and Bright Dairy Group were found earlier to have produced milk contaminated with melamine, a compound used to cheat nutrition tests.

The scandal has savaged the companies’ share prices and prompted Seattle-based coffee chain Starbucks Corp to pull Mengniu milk from its 300-plus stores last month.

“I feel I have let everybody down. I have done so much, yet still done wrong,” Monday’s Beijing News quoted Mengniu’s marketing chief, Zhao Yuanhua, as saying on state television.

Zhao and executives from Mengniu and Bright Dairy also promised consumers that their products prices would not rise despite higher costs of quality controls.

Chinese health officials last week said that nearly 10,700 infants and children were still in hospital after drinking toxic milk and formula. More than 36,000 children had left hospital after being treated.

The scandal has rocked faith in the safety of Chinese-made products, already under a cloud from a series of quality scandals involving food, drugs and toys last year, and prompted authorities to issue tighter rules governing milk production.

China’s quality watchdog said a fourth round of tests on baby milk formula and other milk powder from dozens of local brands across 18 provinces had shown no new cases of melamine contamination, Xinhua news agency said in a separate report.

But the Ministry of Agriculture had decided to continue sending quality teams across the country to monitor the clean-up of milk stations and animal feed producers, it said in a notice on its website.

“Supervise and urge local authorities to investigate and punish the illegal use of melamine and other toxins, and other unlawful adulteration,” the ministry said.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Macfie

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