China to shut nearly 50% of dairies after safety audit

A grieving woman protests outside the Ministry of Health in Beijing. File photo Some 300,000 children were made ill and at least six babies died after drinking tainted milk

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Nearly half of China's 1,176 dairies are being shut down after failing to obtain new licences, the country's quality inspection agency says.

It says that 533 dairy producers have been ordered to halt productions after a government safety audit.

The announcement comes as China tries to shore up its milk industry after a baby milk health scandal in 2008.

At least six babies died and another 300,000 were made ill by drinking infant formula tainted with melamine.

The industrial chemical was added to dairy products to make them seem high in protein.

'Severe punishment'

On Saturday, China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (Aqsiq) said that 533 dairies had been ordered to cease operations.

Only 107 of those would be allowed to again apply for licences once they improved quality controls, the agency said.

Aqsiq spokesman Li Yuanping also said that of 145 companies producing mild powder for babies 114 had their licences renewed.

He added that the government would further strengthen supervision of dairy firms, stressing that "production without authorisation will be severely punished".

The 2008 scandal led to a worldwide recall of Chinese dairy products and was a major embarrassment for the country's Communist leadership.

Beijing later vowed to constantly monitor milk quality to restore consumer confidence.

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