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Parents in China's milk scandal criticize payout

/ Source: The Associated Press

Chinese families whose babies suffered painful kidney stones from drinking tainted infant formula said Tuesday that a planned payout by dairies is too low and their lawyers pledged to continue attempts to sue for more compensation.

The release of details of the 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) compensation plan and the opening of trials for those blamed for the contamination signal that authorities hope to end what was widely seen as a national disgrace, highlighting widespread food safety problems and corporate and official malfeasance.

Contaminated milk powder has been blamed for the deaths of at least six children and the sickening of nearly 300,000 others.

On Wednesday, the chairwoman of Sanlu Group Co., the dairy at the center of the scandal, will be tried for making shoddy products, the latest in a string of court appearances for more than a dozen suspects on charges related to contaminating milk with melamine, an industrial chemical.

Little consolation for parents

But the moves offered little consolation to some parents who feel the government breached their trust after their children died or were sickened from milk powder certified by authorities as safe.

"If they offered me compensation, I won't accept, because what do I need this money for since my son is gone," said Tian Xiaowei, an apple farmer and part-time truck driver, whose year-old child Tian Jin died in August, apparently from drinking melamine-tainted milk powder.

"These people are making profit by letting people die," Tian said in a telephone interview from his home in central Shaanxi province. "If the information was made public earlier, I would not have let my son drink Sanlu powder and he wouldn't have died."

Tian said, if possible, he would like to attend the trials himself. "I want to see what these people look like. I really hate them."

Tian could receive 200,000 yuan ($29,000) in compensation for the death of his child, according to details of the payout plan reported Tuesday by the China Daily, an official newspaper. It was not clear, however, if Tian would receive any money because authorities have yet to include his son's death in the official tally, even though tests on milk powder the boy was drinking showed high levels of melamine.

Children who suffered kidney stones would get 2,000 yuan ($290) while sicker children would be paid 30,000 yuan ($4,380), the paper said. The one-time cash payments total 900 million yuan ($131 million), while another 200 million yuan ($29 million) will go to a fund set up to cover bills for lingering health problems.

But parents who received copies of the agreement considered the offer of 2,000 yuan to be woefully inadequate, said Beijing attorney Xu Zhiyong, who is part of a legal team representing 63 families.

The amount represents about one half of the per capita annual income for rural residents.

"I advised them not to sign it for the time being, as we would demand trials of those 22 dairy companies," said Xu, whose attempts to sue the companies involved have so far been rejected by the courts. "The compensation is too low and no victims were involved in the decision-making process."

Wang Zhenping, a wheat farmer in Henan whose 14-month-old son suffered kidney stones and liver damage from tainted milk, said the compensation didn't even cover medical expenses.

"If they really want to compensate, then they should try to make the victims happy. If they can't, I'd rather that they did not compensate at all," Wang said.

The trial of Sanlu's chairwoman and general manager, Tian Wenhua, begins Wednesday. Seventeen others were in court over the past few days with at least four facing the death penalty, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Verdicts will be announced on an unspecified "selected date," Xinhua said.