Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said the government is partly responsible for the tainted milk scandal that has been blamed in the deaths of four babies and shaken consumer confidence, in a rare admission for a Chinese leader.
The government feels "great sorrow" over the crisis which has sickened more than 50,000 children, Mr Wen said in an interview published in this week's Science Magazine.
"We feel that although problems occurred at the company, the government also has a responsibility," Mr Wen said in the September 20 interview posted yesterday on the website of the magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
A Chinese version of the interview in the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper quoted Mr Wen as saying the government had been especially lax in "supervision and management".
"We will handle the incident sincerely and seriously, and draw deep lessons from it," said Mr Wen, who has won the admiration of ordinary Chinese citizens for his visits to the country's poor rural areas and for rallying victims of the devastating May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province.
Authorities have blamed dairy suppliers, saying they added the industrial chemical melamine to watered-down milk to dupe quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein.
Melamine is used in the manufacturing of plastics, fertiliser, paint and adhesives. Health experts say ingesting a small amount poses no danger, but in larger doses, the chemical can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure. Infants are particularly vulnerable.
China's products were hammered by quality scandals even before the uproar over contaminated milk. Its manufacturing industry had been under intense scrutiny after melamine and other industrial toxins were found last year in exports ranging from toothpaste to a pet food ingredient.
Since the latest scare, milk-linked products from China have been withdrawn from stores in dozens of countries as governments increase vigilance and step up safety tests.
On Saturday, Taiwan's health authorities said the island is banning imports of ammonium bicarbonate - a rising agent used in baking - from the mainland after it tested positive for melamine.