Two face death over Chinese milk

Sanlu's Tian Wenhua pleaded guilty at an earlier hearingTwo men have been given the death penalty for their involvement in China’s contaminated milk scandal.

The former boss of the Sanlu dairy at the centre of the scandal was given life imprisonment.

They are among 21 sentences being handed down by the court in northern China, where Sanlu is based.

The scandal, in which melamine was added to raw milk to make it appear higher in protein, led to the deaths of six babies and made some 300,000 ill.

It caused outrage in China and has tainted the image of the country’s food industry both at home and abroad.

Illegal workshop

One of the most eagerly-awaited sentences was that of Tian Wenhua, who was chairwoman of the Sanlu Group, the largest producer of baby milk powder.

10 Sept: 14 babies reported ill in Gansu province
15 Sept: Beijing confirms first deaths from the contamination
22 Sept: Toll of ill babies rises to tens of thousands – and eventually will rise to almost 300,000
23 Sept: Other countries start to test Chinese dairy products or remove them from shops
31 Oct: Chinese media suggest melamine is routinely added to animal feed
24 Dec: The main dairy firm involved, Sanlu, is declared bankrupt
31 Dec: Four senior Sanlu executives go on trial
2 Jan:Firms involved ask for forgiveness in a mass New Year text message
22 Jan: A court in China begins handing down sentences

Timeline: China milk scandal

She had pleaded guilty to charges of producing and selling fake or substandard produce in December.

The Intermediate People’s Court in Shijiazhuang gave her a life sentence and ordered her to pay a fine of 20m ($2.9m) yuan.

Sanlu itself was fined 50m yuan ($7.3m), Xinhua news agency reports, even though the firm has been declared bankrupt.

Three other former Sanlu executives were given between five years and 15 years.

Earlier the court sentenced Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping to death.

Zhang Yujun was accused of running an illegal workshop in Shandong province in eastern China, producing 600 tonnes of the fake protein powder – the largest source of melamine in the country.

He was sentenced along with Zhang Yanzhang – accused of selling on Zhang Yujun’s protein powder – who was given a life sentence.

Milk producer, Geng Jinping had been convicted of producing and selling toxic food to dairy companies.

His associate Geng Jinzhu was given eight years in prison.

Gao Junjie, who was also accused of selling protein powder to milk producers, received a suspended death sentence, Xinhua said.

Huge anger

When the scandal broke in September, it emerged a chain of melamine producers and middlemen had been supplying milk dealers with the product.

The dealers added the industrial chemical to boost the apparent protein content of milk, which had often been watered down to make more money.

Major dairy companies bought the milk from such dealers, failing to test the milk for purity and nutritional value.

The result was widespread poisoning of babies, the group most vulnerable to tainted milk as it was their only food source.

Kidney damage was reported in hundreds of thousands of people. At least six babies were killed because of it.

The scandal prompted levels of anger in China unseen for many years, the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Beijing says.

The government scrambled to fight off allegations that it reacted slowly, by pledging to improve food safety standards and promising to bring the culprits of the scandal to court.