China's product quality boss resigned Monday in the wake of the tainted baby formula scandal that has sickened nearly 53,000 infants and caused the deaths of four infants.
Li Changjiang stepped down with the approval of China's Cabinet, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Li's group is responsible for ensuring that China's food supply chain is safe.
His resignation comes after the industrial chemical melamine was blamed for causing kidney stones and kidney failure in babies.
The chemical was found in infant formula and other milk products from 22 of China's dairy companies.
China's product safety system was overhauled only a year ago with new regulations and procedures to try to restore consumer confidence.
The discovery of the tainted milk is especially damaging because Sanlu Group Co., the company at the heart of the scandal, is China's biggest producer of powdered milk. Such large companies are expected to act as industry role models for safety and quality.
Infant formula and other milk products have been pulled from stores around the country.
Chinese imports from liquid milk to instant coffee mix to milk-based candy have been banned around Asia.
The official number of sick children jumped late Sunday from 6,200 to nearly 53,000.
More than 80 percent of the 12,892 children hospitalized in recent weeks were 2 years old or younger, the Health Ministry said. Of those in hospitals, 104 are in serious condition.
Another 39,965 children received outpatient treatment at hospitals and were considered "basically recovered," the ministry said.
Four babies' deaths have been blamed on tainted milk powder.
The ministry did not explain the sudden increase in the number of cases but suggested health officials were combing through hospital records from May through August to trace the origins of the contamination.
The deaths of three infants linked to tainted infant formula occurred during those months, the Health Ministry said.
Source: The Associated Press, Reuters