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China to launch pre-New Year food safety campaign

January 12, 2009

China will launch a pre-Lunar New Year crackdown on food safety, the Health Ministry said on Monday, focusing on illegal use of additives after a milk scandal last year killed at least six babies and made thousands sick.

The campaign would focus on seven provinces, including Hebei where the milk contamination scandal began, ministry spokesman Mao Qunan told a news conference.

“Groups and individuals who have broken the law will be dealt with firmly to completely ensure people’s food safety over the holiday period,” Mao said. “We will report important cases to society in a timely manner.”

The Lunar New Year starts on January 26, when traditionally millions of Chinese head back to their home towns to feast and celebrate with their families.

At least six young Chinese children died from kidney stones and more than 290,000 were made ill from melamine-contaminated milk formula, battering already dented faith in China-made goods and prompting massive recalls of dairy and other food products around the world.

Melamine is used to maker fertilizers, plastics and other industrial goods but gained notoriety as a cheap additive for milk and other foods. Rich in nitrogen, melamine can be used to fool tests for protein.

It has also been detected in eggs, chocolates, ice creams, yoghurts and other foods.

China has suffered other food additive scandals in the past, including the use of carcinogenic chemicals as food colorings.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie at Reuters)