Chinese executives promise to raise standards on milk

Chinese dairy executives trying to shore up their beleaguered industry have pledged to implement higher standards, while nearly 6,000 babies remain hospitalized with kidney problems from contaminated milk.

Officials in the major dairy-producing region of Inner Mongolia said the country's two largest dairies were planning to consolidate farming and raw milk collection to allow better quality control.

The move is the latest attempt to contain the fallout after baby formula contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine was blamed for causing the deaths of four infants and sickening about 54,000 other children in mainland China.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that 5,800 children were still hospitalized, six in serious condition.

Chinese authorities have blamed dairy suppliers for the food safety scandal that began last month, saying they added melamine to watered-down milk to fool quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein.

Melamine, a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers, can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it and, in extreme cases, can lead to life-threatening kidney failure. Infants are particularly susceptible.

In an effort to restore public trust in local milk supplies, reporters were taken on a tour of dairy facilities in Inner Mongolia, home to Mengniu Dairy Group Co. and Yili Industrial Group Co., both of which have been implicated in the scandal.

Mengniu and Yili have seen their shares plummet. The leading business magazine, Caijing, reported that losses at both companies were expected to top $526 million in the next four to five months.

Officials said quality checks have intensified in recent weeks, with Mengniu and Yili deploying 3,000 inspectors throughout the region, and the government more than 4,000.

“Provide 100 percent safety to consumers,” read a slogan on a red banner in the ultra-clean processing and packaging hall at Yili's headquarters in Hohhot.