China imposes media ban over new milk scandal: watchdog

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Chinese officials have banned independent reporting on the latest toxic food scandal involving melamine, a chemical blamed for the deaths of six babies in 2008, a press watchdog said Thursday.

The International Federation of Journalists, citing local sources, said censors in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong had ordered that media outlets "must only use information formally released by the authorities".

There was no immediate comment from authorities in Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong.

"The (IFJ) is appalled at the latest media order issued by Guangdong Province Propaganda Department banning independent reporting on a new toxic melamine milk scandal," the Brussels-based group said in a statement.

IFJ general secretary Aidan White said the order "raises further concerns about prioritising censorship over the well-being of citizens".

The watchdog warned in a report this week that China is intensifying its clampdown on local and foreign journalists.

White called on the central government in Beijing to "intervene immediately to ensure that all vital information regarding the health of citizens reaches the public".

The melamine contamination in 2008 was blamed for killing at least six babies and sickening more than 300,000 people. The chemical was found to have been added to milk in China to give the appearance of a higher protein content.

Now, Chinese reports say that tainted products supposed to have been destroyed after the 2008 scandal have found their way back on to the market.

Police have arrested four people involved in the dairy industry in the northern city of Weinan, state media reported Wednesday.

And in a sign of growing official concern, the government has rushed inspectors to 16 provinces to check for food-safety problems, Xinhua news agency said Tuesday.

A total of 21 people have reportedly been convicted over the 2008 scare. Two have been executed and others were given jail sentences ranging from two years to life.

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