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China will need more than tough talk and executions to rebuild trust in food safety following recent food scares, says an editorial in The Lancet.

In 2008, inspectors found melamine — an industrial chemical that increases food's apparent protein content — in 12 per cent of milk powder products from 22 Chinese dairies. The contamination has led to six deaths and kidney damage in 296,000 babies, says the editorial.

The Chinese government has arrested 60 people in connection with the scandal, executed two, and sentenced the former chairwoman of one of the implicated dairies to life in prison.

Offending dairies have been ordered to pay US$16 million to the families of affected children and the Ministry of Health has established new committees on food safety, stepped up inspections and published a list of banned foods.

But officials warn that the slowing Chinese economy might tempt producers to cut corners in 2009. The editorial recommends transparent regulations to restore confidence and prevent future scandals.


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