25 Jan 2009

Fonterra accepts milk scandal verdicts

7:18 am on 25 January 2009

Fonterra has joined the Government in saying it does not condone the death penalty in the case of the contaminated milk scandal.

Two men were sentenced to death at a court in northern China on Thursday for supplying milk formula that had been mixed with the toxic chemical melamine. Six babies died from consuming the mixture and as many as 300,000 children were made ill by it.

While not condoning the use of the death penalty in this case, both Fonterra and the Government say they respect the right of the Chinese government to take the scandal seriously, and therefore accept the court's findings.

Fonterra owned 43% of Sanlu Group, the now-bankrupt dairy company at the centre of the scandal. Sanlu's chairwoman has been sentenced to life in prison for producing and selling fake or substandard products.

Though he welcomes the conviction of those responsible, Green Party foreign affairs spokesperson Keith Locke says the sentences demonstrate the harshness of the Chinese regime towards anyone who embarrasses them, and the Government is not doing New Zealand businesses any favours by keeping silent about China's lack of human rights.

However, Prime Minister John Key says it is up to the Chinese justice system to decide what type of punishment is appropriate, and Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier agrees.

New Zealand China Trade Association chairman Stuart Ferguson said any calls for businessess to stop trading with China would be an over-reaction, since New Zealand trades with a number of other major nations which have the death penalty.

Most affected families sign up for compensation

More than 90 percent of the families whose children were stricken by the toxic milk have taken a state-backed compensation deal, according to the China Dairy Industry Association.

262,662 children suffered kidney stones and other illnesses after drinking the tainted formula.

The compensation agreements curtail the families' right to sue the 22 manufacturers found culpable.

However, one group of parents are refusing to accept the compensation, saying that it's not enough to cover their children's expected long-term problems.