China says 90 percent of families take toxic milk deal

BEIJING (Reuters) - Over 90 percent of Chinese families with children stricken by toxic milk have taken a state-backed compensation deal, a dairy industry association said, days after a court gave death sentences in the scandal.

The China Dairy Industry Association told the official Xinhua news agency late on Friday that families of 262,662 children who suffered kidney stones and other illnesses after drinking tainted milk formula have signed compensation agreements, which also curtail their right to sue the 22 manufacturers found culpable.

The report said that was 90.7 percent of the near 300,000 children made ill by the formula adulterated with melamine, an industrial chemical used to fool quality checks.

Those who have taken the payments include the families of six children officially confirmed killed by the melamine, and all but two of 891 made seriously ill, the report said.

But even on Friday, a group of parents said in a petition to the Chinese Ministry of Health that they would not accept the compensation, complaining it was too little and did not anticipate their children’s long-term problems.

“Many of the parents I’m in contact with simply won’t accept the compensation agreement,” Zhao Lianhai, one of the petition organizers, said by telephone on Saturday. He is the father of a 3-year-old sick from melamine-tainted milk.

“I can’t speak for the Dairy Industry’s number. But I do know that there are many parents who are unhappy and won’t sign.”

He said the officials who took the petition said they would study the parents’ demands.

The Sanlu group and other dairy companies have offered 200,000 yuan ($29,300) to families whose children died, 30,000 ($4,400) for kidney stones and other serious illness, and 2,000 yuan ($300) for less serious illnesses, Xinhua said.

A court in Shijiazhuang in northern China on Thursday sentenced two men to death for trading in melamine put in milk.

Tian Wenhua, the former general manager of Sanlu Dairy, the Shijiazhuang-based company at the heart of the scandal which broke in September, was sentenced to life in prison for concealing the problem. Other defendants received jail sentences.

Families of 23,651 children made sick by melamine have not been reached over the compensation offer, because of “wrong or untrue” registration details, said Xinhua.

Many of the stricken families were farmers or migrant workers, whose restless lives may make them difficult to track down.

($1=6.83 yuan)

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

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