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Dairy boss in China delayed her report

By Anita Chang
Associated Press / January 1, 2009
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BEIJING - An executive for the dairy company at the heart of China's tainted milk scandal admitted knowing there were problems with Sanlu brand products for months before she informed authorities and pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that could lead to the death penalty, state media reported.

The trial of Tian Wenhua, former board chairwoman and general manager of Sanlu Group Co., was the most high profile yet in a food safety crisis that highlights corporate and official malfeasance.

At least six babies died and nearly 300,000 were sickened by infant formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, while panicked parents in China rushed their children to hospitals for health checks. Middlemen who sell milk to dairy companies were accused of adding water to raw milk, then mixing in nitrogen-rich melamine to fool quality tests for protein content.

Normally used to make plastics and fertilizer, melamine can cause kidney stones and kidney failure when ingested in large amounts. The discovery of melamine in dairy exports such as chocolate and yogurt triggered a slew of product recalls overseas.

Tian, three other top Sanlu executives and the company itself were charged with producing and selling fake or substandard products, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The executives could be executed if convicted, China Daily newspaper reported. The trial in Shijiazhuang Intermediate People's Court ended last night but no verdict was announced, said a duty officer at the court who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Tian told the court she learned of consumer complaints about problematic milk in mid-May, and led a company team set up to handle the case, Xinhua said.

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