Two face death in tainted baby milk trial

Farmer and trader to be executed over contaminated supplies
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Two men were sentenced to death yesterday for supplying poisoned milk powder that killed at least six children in China. Nearly 300,000 infants were made ill by the product, which was deliberately laced with the industrial compound melamine.

The men facing execution, Zhang Yujun, a cattle farmer, and Geng Jinping, a milk trader, were convicted of supplying contaminated milk to Sanlu Group, a Chinese dairy company. The former boss of Sanlu, Tian Wenhua, 66, was jailed for life and three other colleagues were sentenced to between five and 15 years for continuing to market the milk powder after they were told last year it was dangerous.

Hundreds of thousands of children fell ill after drinking Sanlu milk laced with high levels of melamine, a toxic compound that can cause kidney stones. It is meant for use in plastics, fertilisers and even concrete but its high nitrogen content artificially inflates protein levels when it is added to milk or animal feed.

Zhang was accused of running an illegal workshop in the province of Shandong which made 600 tonnes of fake protein powder. Geng was convicted of producing and selling toxic products to dairy companies.

In all, 22 firms were found to have sold tainted milk and the scandal led to contaminated Chinese dairy products being pulled off shelves around the world. Last month, Beijing ordered the companies to pay £115m compensation to the families of babies that died or fell ill. Some parents with sick children have not received any money, while others have been given just $300.

Sanlu officials were made aware of the melamine problem by early August but the public was not warned until mid-September as China strove to put on a perfect face for the Olympics. Officials may have timed yesterday's sentencing to try to tame public outrage ahead of China's most important holiday, the Lunar New Year.

A handful of parents travelled to the northern town of Shijiazhuang to wait in the freezing cold for the verdicts. Many vented their anger at Sanlu's former boss and were dismayed when she was jailed for life. "Tian should have been shot," said Zheng Shuzhen, 48, whose granddaughter died of kidney failure in June. "So many children died but they kept the official number down so she could get life [in jail], not death."