Two babies have died and more than 1,250 have fallen ill after consuming Sanlu brand milk formula, the Chinese ministry of health said today (15 September).

The milk formula was contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical that boosts the protein content of foods but can cause kidney stones. More than 50 infants are still seriously ill.

The government has launched a nationwide investigation of all milk formula brands and promised to also investigate the entire dairy products supply chain.

“Dealing with Sanlu and enhancing food security is regarded as an important political task,” said Li Changjiang, head of China’s quality watchdog, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).

The government of Hebei, the province where Sanlu is based, has detained 19 people on suspicion of contaminating milk supplied to the firm. Two brothers have admitted adding melamine to the milk from their farm after it was rejected by Sanlu, according to the government website. After adding the ingredient, the milk was accepted.

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Officials said that Sanlu should also shoulder a “large part of the responsibility” for the incident. The company, one of China’s top four dairies, first received customer complaints in March when some infants were admitted to hospital. Sanlu’s production has now been halted.