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Foreign baby formula off shelves

By CANG WEI in Nanjing and WANG ZHENGHUA in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2013-03-30 02:25

Retailers in China have withdrawn a foreign brand of infant milk formula from shelves following a media scare over its safety.

The Chinese partner of Hero Group, a major Swiss baby formula manufacturer, has been accused of deliberately mislabeling milk powder, and a senior employee has been detained, officials said.

Authorities in Suzhou, where the partner company Xile Lier is based, said the company had committed multiple offenses.

Foreign baby formula off shelves

Industry and commerce administration and police officers inspect an infant formula products distribution company in Shanghai on Thursday. Xile Lier, the Chinese partner of Swiss baby formula manufacturer Hero Group, confirmed that the company was involved in buying illegal infant formula and changing expiration dates. Wang Juliang / For China Daily

The news came after China Central Television reported the company had been changing the expiration dates and re-labeling formula for older babies as the more expensive ones for younger babies.

Officials said that only three out of 17 batches of the infant formula seized in the company's production plant met the country's quality standard.

The local industrial and commercial bureau has confiscated about 520,000 packages and 38,868 cans of the infant formula, worth about 50 million yuan ($8 million).

The formula is sold on the mainland under the label of "Hero Nutradefense".

According to the quality and technology supervision bureau at the industrial zone, besides selling formula made by Hero that has acquired China's health permits, Xile Lier also purchased illegal formula produced by Hero for the European market.

Imported infant formula can only be sold in the country after applying to Customs, passing quality tests and getting health permits, according to China's regulations.

To sell the illegal formula in the Chinese market, Xile Lier faked the batch code by erasing the original numbers, repainting new ones and producing boxes since February 2012.

Mou Jun, the person running the Xile Lier site, has been detained by police and the production lines at the company were shut down in November.

But quality watchdogs in Suzhou did not publicize the formula's problems, nor did it order a recall of the products.

"Primitive manual operation in milk powder distribution can pollute it with bacteria and worms," Ding Zongyi, a senior member of the Chinese Medical Doctor Association, was quoted by CCTV as saying.

"Substandard milk powder can cause severe damage to infants' health. Milk powder lacking protein content can cause deficiency of important nutrients to infants and irreversible development to their physical development."

The news has quickly aroused public concern nationwide, especially since many Chinese parents have been choosing to use foreign infant formula to feed their babies since 2008, after six babies died and another 300,000 were reported ill because some domestic milk powder products were found tainted with melamine.

The Shanghai government has ordered supermarkets and stores to pull the formula from shelves.

Officials and salespeople at a number of big supermarkets in the city, including Hualian, Carrefour, Walmart, Lotus, E-mart and Century Lianhua Supermarket, said they never sell the brand in their shops.

However, one salesperson named Chen at Century Lianhua's Shanghai Stadium shop said Hero Nutradefense had a good reputation in the market prior to the scare.

Liang Jie, a lawyer in Shanghai, said his 3-year-old boy had been using the baby formula the past two years.

Liang said that he was outraged and only stopped using the brand on Thursday when he learned the Hero Nutradefense had been exposed.

"We compared several foreign brands including those from Australia and New Zealand and eventually selected the brand because of positive comments online and its claim of no quality problems throughout its 100-year history," he said.

"I have been very careful when choosing baby formula and never care about the cost," he said, adding he will never use the brand again.

Major Chinese shopping sites, including Tmall and 360buy.com, have also stopped selling the brand of products.

Wang Xiaodong in Beijing contributed to this story.

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