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China trials begin for 6 accused in tainted milk scandal

[JURIST] Six criminal trials in four separate courts began Friday in China's Hebei province for six people accused of involvement in the country's recent melamine-tainted milk scandal. The six cattle farmers and milk collectors are accused [Xinhua report] of making several hundred tons of melamine-containing protein powder and adding it to raw milk before selling the mixture to Chinese dairies between October 2007 and August 2008. They are formally charged with committing crimes against public security. According to prosecutors, one farmer sold over 600 tons of protein powder for $1 million. The main dairy that purchased the additive was government-owned farm Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group Co., which was forced to cease production in September [Xinhua report]. The milk company filed for bankruptcy this Wednesday, and the petition was accepted by a court Friday [CNN reports]. Former Sanlu general manager and board chairwoman Tian Wenhua is scheduled to face trial next Wednesday. Earlier this month the Hebei Supreme Court rejected a class action suit [JURIST report] filed against Sanlu by the families of children who died or were harmed as a result of tainted milk.

News of possible milk powder contamination by the chemical melamine first broke in September [Guardian report], following the death of an infant and reports that at least 50 other infants had fallen ill after consuming baby formula, leading to massive recalls [BBC report] of both liquid milk products and milk powders. To date, the Chinese Health Ministry has attributed the contamination to the deaths of six children, and at least 294,000 other children have been affected.

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