China detains 22 suspects over melamine mixing
Police in the Chinese province at the centre of a scandal over tainted milk powder have detained 22 people suspected of involvement in introducing the chemical melamine into the supply chain, state media said on Tuesday.
Thousands of children have been hospitalised with kidney illnesses and four have died after drinking milk formula tainted with the chemical, causing public outrage and shining the spotlight back on safety issues in the country's food industry after a series of earlier problems with other products.
Authorities in northern Hebei province held the people after raids on dozens of dairy farms and milk purchasing stations during which they seized more than 220 kg (485 pounds) of the cheap industrial chemical, the China Daily said.
It cited police as saying 19 of the detainees were managers at dairy pastures, breeding farms and milk purchasing stations.
"According to the police investigation, melamine was produced in underground plants and then sold to breeding farms and purchasing stations," the newspaper said.
A man surnamed Gao was suspected of producing a "protein powder" containing melamine, which can be used to cheat quality checks. A man named Xue is thought to have sold the tainted powder on to the milk purchasing stations, the paper said.
Hoping to shore up the "made-in-China" name after a number of countries banned or recalled imports of Chinese milk products in the wake of the scandal, officials have vowed to clean up milk production.
As part of those efforts, officials have launched a month-long overhaul of the country's milk collection system aimed at weeding out deficiencies in oversight, the China Daily added.