The State Council’s Food Safety Commission announced Thursday that since July 2010 it had recovered 2,132 tonnes of milk powder laced with the industrial chemical.
Some 96 offenders had already been imprisoned or were awaiting prosecution. Among these, 17 have already been convicted, with two handed life sentences, said state-run Chinese media. Trials were pending for 38 people, while 41 investigations were currently ongoing.
The seizures of the material were thought to be leftover from swoops made during the scandal in 2008 rather than the because new batches had been produced, said authorities. Tainted samples, that the Government ordered to be burnt, buried or disposed of, had been saved and then earmarked for re-introduction into circulation.
The food safety body said loopholes in the quality control system of dairy products had been responsible for allowing the contaminated powder to re-emerge. Almost 200 officials had been punished – with 26 losing their jobs – over neglect of duty, it added.
The scandal erupted in 2008 when a number of dairy producers in China were found to be adding melamine to milk powder to make it appear the protein content of the product was higher than it actually was.
Investigations initially revealed that the company Sanlu was at the centre of the practice but subsequent scrutiny revealed at least 21 other firms were involved. The contamination led to six deaths and the sickening of at least 300,000 others.
Two officials were executed for their role in the scandal in late 2009.