Beijing Premier Wen Jiabao says the government was partly responsible for the tainted milk scandal that has sickened tens of thousands of children and shaken consumer confidence in the country's food exports.
In an interview published in this week's Science Magazine, Wen said the government feels "great sorrow" about the crisis, which erupted last month and has been blamed for the deaths of four babies.
"We feel that although problems occurred at the company, the government also has a responsibility," Wen said in the Sept. 20 interview posted Friday on the Web site of the weekly science journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
A Chinese version of the interview in the People's Daily newspaper, the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece, also quoted Wen as saying that the government had especially been lax in "supervision and management."
It is a rare admission by a member of China's leadership, which still needs to cultivate popular support and strengthen bonds with ordinary citizens.