updated 10/26/2008 4:38:19 AM ET 2008-10-26T08:38:19

China's premier said Saturday the country will take steps to improve its food safety, blaming the tainted milk products believed to have killed four babies and sickened thousands of children on a failure of regulation.

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Speaking at a 43-nation Asia-Europe Meeting summit, Wen Jiabao said the milk scandal will spur the introduction of China's first major food safety law and China's food exports will meet international standards.

"Food involves a full process from the farmland to the table, it involves many links and many processes," he said. "In every link and every process we need to put in place effective and powerful regulatory measures."

Burning tainted products
In another display of government resolve, state television showed authorities burning tainted dairy products. Some 32,200 tons were destroyed this month in one province, the Xinhua News Agency said. It said about a third what was burned was infant formula made by Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group, whose products were the most heavily tainted.

More than 3,600 children remain sick in China from milk contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, used in plastics and fertilizer, with three in serious condition, the Ministry of Health said last week.

The state-run China Daily newspaper said the new law will impose safety standards on food additives and ban all harmful chemicals. It will also allow the government to recall unsafe food if companies fail to do so.

Authorities announced that melamine was found in a host of milk products in September, since then the scandal has prompted recalls of Chinese-made milk products in dozens of countries.

Authorities say middlemen apparently added melamine to milk they collected from farmers to sell to large dairy companies. The suppliers are accused of watering down the milk and then adding the nitrogen-rich chemical to make the milk seem higher in protein when tested. Protein tests often simply measure nitrogen levels.

Wen said China needs to specify legal responsibility in every link of the chain, and those responsible, including government leaders, would be punished.

On Saturday, Hong Kong authorities said tests found 4.7 parts per million of melamine in the eggs produced by a division of China's Dalian Hanwei Enterprise Group. The legal limit of melamine in Hong Kong is 2.5 ppm.

Hong Kong Secretary for Food and Health York Chow said the melamine may have come from feed given to the chickens that laid the eggs.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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