The People’s Republic of China clearly is not handling the latest melamine-tainted milk problem like it did the last time.

The slow action that marked the last melamine-in-milk scandal in the Republic of China is not being repeated now.  After finding melamine-tainted milk on the shelves in southern China last month, the PRC kicked off a ten-day search and destroy mission.

Its Quality Inspection officers are hitting the supermarkets to find and destroy milk contaminated with melamine.  Health Minister Chen Zhu ordered the crackdown led by the National Food Safety Rectification Office.

The goal is to remove melamine-contaminated milk powder that is leftover from 2008.  The bad milk now being found in China’s supermarkets was recalled by dairy companies, but never destroyed.

“Some unscrupulous food companies processed and resold melamine-laced powder that was recalled but never destroyed by dairy companies, which has posed great health risks to consumers,” Chen said in a teleconference announcing the ten-day crackdown.

Chen called removal of the products from grocery shelves and destroying them “an uncompleted task” that will now be completed.  He said the government would focus on manufacturing, circulation, and consumption, which apparently means that all dairies, food enterprises, supermarkets and catering businesses will be seeing inspectors during the crackdown.

While the PRC was slow to respond to the 2008 melamine scandal, the government got tough at the end, executing some it said were responsible for sickening almost 300,000 children and killing six.

Chen promised that this time anyone caught violating food safety laws “will be severely punished accordingly.”

In the past, dairy companies have added melamine to mislead inspectors testing for protein control.  Melamine is an organic compound used primarily in plastics and fertilizer that when added to milk leads to false readings for high protein content.

China has more than 1,500 dairy manufacturers.  A spokesman for the Guangdong Provincial Dairy Association said most companies recalled the tainted milk in 2008, but that does not necessarily mean it was destroyed.  Three companies were found selling the 2008 tainted milk powder last month.

A lawyer for victims from 2008 praised the government’s action now as “relatively responsible.”