Page last updated at 11:46 GMT, Tuesday, 20 January 2009

China poisoned-milk families sue

Baby and mother in China, generic
The Chinese government says 294,000 people were affected

More than 200 families whose children died or were made ill by poisoned milk in China have appealed to the country's highest court for compensation.

The 213 families are arguing that a payout scheme drawn up by the government is not good enough.

However, the Supreme Court is not obliged to hear their case and has not yet responded to the petition.

Six children died and 300,000 people were affected after drinking milk tainted with the chemical melamine.

Last month, the government ordered 22 firms implicated in the scandal to pay a total of 1.1bn yuan ($160m; 113m) to the hundreds of thousands of families involved.

But the 213 families are asking for 36m yuan to share between them.

Legal setbacks

Chang Lin, a farmer whose 18-month-old son died in August, said the payment scheme proposed by the government did not even classify some of them as victims.

Current offer would provide $29,000 to each bereaved family, and $4,380 to each family with a seriously affected child
Offer sought in families' suit would provide $46,000 to each family whose child died or was seriously affected
"They haven't given me any compensation. They haven't even recognised that my child died because of melamine," he told AFP news agency.

Another member of the group, single mother Zhang Ge, told the Associated Press she had been forced to leave her job to care for her sick son.

"The reason why I'm bringing this case to court is not about money but about my child's future," she said.

The group says the lower courts have repeatedly refused to hear their cases.

Widespread poisoning

Melamine is high in nitrogen, and was added to the milk to make it appear high in protein.

When the scandal broke in September, a chain of melamine producers and middlemen was found to have been supplying milk dealers with the product.

The dealers added the melamine to products that were then bought by major dairy companies, which failed to test the milk for purity and nutritional value.

The result was widespread poisoning of babies, the group most vulnerable to tainted milk as it was their only food source.

Kidney damage was reported in hundreds of thousands of people and at least six babies died.

Six men accused of making and selling melamine went on trial last December, and four dairy executives were also prosecuted.

The results of the trials have not yet been announced, but according to some reports the executives could face the death penalty if they are convicted.

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