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Former Dairy Boss Pleads Guilty in Chinese Milk Scandal Trial


The former head of the Chinese company at the center of China's deadly tainted milk scandal has pleaded guilty to the charges of producing and selling substandard products.

Chinese television showed images of the trial Wednesday of Tian Wenhua, head of the Sanlu Dairy Products group, and three other top executives.

News reports say Tian told the court she learned of consumer complaints about tainted Sanlu milk powder in mid-May, but did not report the situation to local authorities until August, just days before the start of the Beijing Olympics.

Prosecutors say the company first began receiving complaints about the quality of its product from consumers as early as December of 2007.

Sanlu milk formula was found to be contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, which is commonly used to make plastics and furniture. If added to watered-down milk, it gives the appearance of higher protein levels.

If taken in excessive levels, melamine can cause kidney stones, and babies who drank tainted infant formula were the most widely affected.

The tainted dairy product has been blamed for causing the deaths of at least six infants in China and sickening nearly 300,000 others.

In all, 22 Chinese dairy firms have been found to have sold tainted milk. The Chinese government last week ordered them to pay $160 million in compensation to the families of babies that died or fell ill.

The French news agency (AFP) reports a small, but vocal, group of protesters outside the courthouse, in the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang. Forty-five year old protester Hua Lian is quoted as saying authorities should deal with the culprits harshly in order to teach others a lesson.

Another protester said he could not afford the proper medical treatment for his son, who was made sick by the tainted milk.

Sanlu declared itself bankrupt last week.

The scandal not only tarnished the company's reputation, but China's as well. It comes after a series of food and product safety scares and led to recalls of Chinese-made dairy products around the world.