Page last updated at 14:26 GMT, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 15:26 UK

China dairy 'asked for cover-up'

Chinese food safety officials check milk at a collection station in Chengdu, Sichuan province
The scandal has caused public fear and outrage in China

The Chinese company at the centre of a milk contamination scandal is reported to have asked for government help to cover up the extent of the problem.

The official People's Daily said the Sanlu Group asked Shijiazhuang city government to help "manage" the media response to the case.

It made the request in August, weeks before the contamination of milk with melamine became public knowledge.

It comes as a new list of tainted milk products is published.

Fifteen more Chinese dairy companies have been identified as having produced milk products contaminated with the industrial chemical.

It brings to 20 the number of companies named as producing goods with melamine.

As well as making about 50,000 babies ill, the tainted milk products have also been blamed for the deaths of four babies.

'Negative influence'

The Chinese authorities have already acknowledged that the Shijiazhuang government sat on a report from Sanlu about milk contamination for more than a month while Beijing hosted the Olympic Games.

It now says that in a letter to the city government, Sanlu asked for help to "increase control and co-ordination of the media, to create a good environment for the recall of the company's problem products", the People's Daily reported.

10 Sept: 14 babies reported ill in Gansu province. Cases reported around China
13 Sept: Sanlu Group identified as source of contaminated powder milk. Production halted, 19 arrests
15 Sept: Beijing confirms two babies have died. Taiwan bans baby milk products
19 Sept: Death toll rises to four. Melamine found in ordinary milk from three well-known dairies.
22 Sept: Toll of ill babies rises to 53,000. Head of China's quality watchdog resigns. Twenty-two firms implicated in scandal.
23 Sept: Countries across Asia start to either test Chinese dairy products or pull them from shops
26 Sept: EU bans Chinese baby food with milk traces. Sales of popular sweet White Rabbit halted after tests detect melamine
29 Sept: Cadbury recalls products in Asia after tests find traces of melamine. Reports say 22 people arrested in Hebei province, suspected of introducing melamine into supply chain

"This is to avoid whipping up the issue and creating a negative influence in society," the Sanlu Group is reported to have said.

Some are asking whether the revelations of a provincial cover-up is in fact an attempt to shift blame from senior officials in Beijing, says the BBC's China analyst Shirong Chen.

China's dairy industry is on the brink of collapse, and imports of food products containing any Chinese milk products are being recalled from shops around the world.

More than a dozen Asian and African countries, plus the 27-member European Union, have taken steps to ban or otherwise limit consumption of Chinese milk-product imports.

Besides the toll in mainland China, five children in Hong Kong, one in Macau, and four people in Taiwan have reportedly developed kidney stones after drinking tainted Chinese products.

The Chinese government says it is facing the spreading problem candidly, but rights organisations say that coverage of the scandal is controlled, and those trying to help victims are being harassed.

Melamine is used in making plastics and is high in nitrogen, which makes products appear to have a higher protein content.

Health experts say that ingesting small amounts does no harm but sustained use can cause kidney stones and renal failure, especially among the young.

Map showing countries affected by China milk

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Sydney Morning Herald China halts dairy exports amid health scandal: Japanese official - 3 hrs ago
Boston Globe Parents of stricken child file lawsuit against Chinese dairy firm - 3 hrs ago
Straits Times Milk scandal hushed up - 4 hrs ago
Al Jazeera Parents sue China dairy firm - 4 hrs ago
China Post China milk scandal firm asked for cover-up help - 6 hrs ago

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