China has admitted that six babies died and 300,000 became ill after drinking milk made from powder which had been poisoned by melamine.
The scandal has been met with public dismay and anger, particularly among parents who feel the government breached their trust after their children were sickened or died from drinking infant formula authorities had certified as safe.
The Health Ministry’s revised death toll is twice the previous figure, while the new count of 294,000 babies who suffered urinary problems from drinking contaminated infant formula is a six-fold increase from the last tally in September.
“Most of the sickened children received outpatient treatment for only small amounts of sand-like kidney stones found in their urinary systems, while some patients had to be hospitalized for the illness,” the ministry said in a statement late Monday.
The latest statistics show that China’s communist leaders are slowly acknowledging the scale of China’s worst food safety scare in years. During such crises, the government often deliberately releases information piecemeal in part to keep from feeding public anger.
Thousands of parents have been clamouring for compensation for their sickened and dead children. The release of the figures raises the question of whether the Health Ministry is getting closer to finalizing a compensation scheme.
“The new figures are more realistic and objective than previous figures. We knew the previous ones could not have been accurate,” said Chang Boyang, a Beijing lawyer who has provided legal assistance to families of children who became ill.
Six deaths from such a serious and widespread problem still seems very low, although at least it is an indication that authorities are being more open about the scale of the scandal.
Morning Report said that Sanlu, one of the companies most badly affected by the poisoning, has begun selling milk powder again and that people are accepting reassurances that it is safe.
Fonterra, which has a 40% stake in Sanlu, announced a 60 cents reduction in its forecast payout for this season, partly because of losses associated with the melamine scandal.