On Wednesday, the former board chairwoman of a Chinese dairy company went on trial over a tainted milk scandal that killed six children and made nearly 300,000 more ill.
Tian Wenhua, former general manager of Sanlu Group, now bankrupt, pleaded guilty to charges of “producing and selling fake or substandard products,” said The Chinese News Agency Xinhua.
Tian and three other senior managers appeared at court in Shijiazhuang, capital of northern Hebei province.
“Tian and three other executives may face the maximum penalty of death for producing and selling contaminated baby formula, at the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People’s Court,” China Daily reported on Wednesday.
But, Xinhua reports the maximum sentence is life in prison.
For months, Sanlu failed to report cases of Chinese children developing kidney stones and other health complications linked to drinking formula contaminated with melamine, before the scandal came to light in September.
Melamine is combined with resins to make plastic fire resistant and is used to make fertilizer. Chronic exposure can cause cancer or reproductive damage.
Melamine is the same ingredient found in pet food and blamed for killing thousands of cats and dogs in the US. It may have also been added deliberately to wheat and rice gluten to increase the appearance of higher protein levels.
Seventeen other people linked to buying, producing, selling and adding melamine to raw milk have gone to trial over the past few days, with several facing a possible death sentence.
In mid-May Tian learned of tainted milk complaints from consumers and led a company team set up to handle the case, Xinhua quoted her as telling the court. She told the court, they did not submit a written report to the Shijiazhuang city government until August 2.
The Shijiazhuang government did not report the case to higher government officials for another month, prompting speculation that officials sought to avoid scandal upsetting Beijing’s Olympic Games in August.
Steep Sentences Expected
In an effort to restore battered credibility in its food, drugs and food products, China is likely to pass a stiff sentence if the four are convicted.
In 2007, China executed Zheng Xiaoyu, the director of its food and drug agency for approving fake medicine in exchange for cash. One antibiotic was blamed for causing the deaths of at least 10 people.
The families of children sickened by tainted milk have criticized a 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) compensation plan funded by 22 Chinese dairy companies found to have sold tainted products.
Parents of children who have died would receive 200,000 yuan ($29,000), while children who suffered kidney stones would get 2,000 yuan ($290), and sicker children would be paid 30,000 yuan ($4,380). #