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Nov 2, 2008
China feed makers guilty
Melamine has been detected in eggs, candy and other products. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
BEIJING - ANIMAL feed makers deliberately added an industrial chemical to their products, ignoring a year-old government rule meant to protect China's food supply, a government official said.

Inspection teams have descended on feed makers nationwide in a 'punishment' campaign to ferret out those found using excessive amounts of the chemical melamine, Agriculture Ministry official Wang Zhicai said in remarks posted on the ministry's Web site and carried by state media on Saturday.

Among the quarter of a million feed-makers and animal breeding farms inspected, inspectors found more than 500 engaged in illegal or questionable practices, with police further investigating 27 companies, Mr Wang said.

He likened the behavior of some of the companies to organised crime, calling them 'black nests of gangsters'.

'Adding melamine to feed is a criminal act and must be firmly attacked,' Mr Wang said.

His remarks were the latest by a government that is trying to appear responsive to a widening food scandal.

In the nearly two months since the government first acknowledged that melamine contaminated the milk supply, the chemical has been detected in eggs, candy and other products. Its presence in feed raises fears about the safety of meat and fish.

Commonly used in plastics and fertilizers, melamine is high in nitrogen, which registers as high protein levels in routine tests of food and feed.

Though experts say at low levels it does not pose a risk to human health, higher concentrations harm the kidneys.

At least four children died from drinking tainted infant formula and milk powder and tens of thousands of others were sickened.

The broad array of tainted products - and the government's delayed response - has damaged public confidence at home and raised further questions about the quality of Chinese products in crucial export markets.

A little more than a year ago, China vowed to minimise the use of melamine after it was found in pet food exports that killed dogs and cats in North America in 2007. Following that, Mr Wang, the agricultural official, said China adopted 'a rigorous standard' for melamine's use - 2 parts per million.

Since the milk contamination was exposed in Sept, inspectors have redoubled efforts to enforce that 2007 standard, Mr Wang said.

'Producers violating the law will be severely punished; they could have their licenses revoked and be handed over to law enforcement organs to be held legally responsible,' said Mr Wang, who heads the Agriculture Ministry's animal husbandry and livestock office.

Already, he said, inspectors have safely disposed of 3,682 tons of feed that exceeded standards.

Executives in food processing industries have said the use of melamine was widespread in China, gaining ground in recent years as prices of real protein additives climbed. -- AP

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