China has dished out justice in the tainted milk case, and severe justice at that. The country has executed two men, Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping, convicted in January of crimes connected to last summer’s powered milk and infant formula contamination incident, which killed six children and sickened about 300,000 people in total.
Zhang, a farmer, produced some 770 tonnes of the powder from July 2007 to August 2008 which was laced with an industrial chemical, melamine, used in the manufacture of plastics and fertiliser [The Telegraph]. Geng was convicted of selling the powder to dairy brokers. The Supreme Court reviewed the cases before the executions, now done with lethal injection, took place. Nineteen other people were convicted of crimes; three got life sentences.
Melamine can cause kidney stones and kidney failure in humans, and has turned up in tainted pet food in the United States. Twenty-two Chinese dairy farms were found to have sold the bad milk, and in all paid about $160 million in damages.
The timing of the initial government response raised some eyebrows abroad. The scandal, which erupted in September last year, highlighted shoddy food safety standards in China and the readiness of the authorities to hush up problems that could have cast a shadow over the Beijing Olympics in August [The Times]. According to The Times, the toxic milk first sickened people in March of 2008, but the product wasn’t recalled until September.
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