Why it’s Still So Hard to Find Safe Baby Formula

As persistent safety issues with domestic infant formula batters the confidence of Chinese consumers, a demand for imported formula has foreign dairy firms looking to China’s market and China struggling to crackdown on smuggled formula—facts that recently inspired Ai Weiwei to use foreign baby formula cans to create a map of China. While premier Li Keqiang’s vow to bolster China’s dairy industry put focus on improving the quality of milk powder through regulation, many consumers remain skeptical of local products. The Economic Observer takes a look at the political and regulatory environments surrounding China’s dairy industry to explain why it’s so hard to find safe baby formula:

[The] China Industry Association is extremely anxious. This is why it recently announced that Chinese milk followed stringent standards and had the best quality in its history. As a trade association, it is their role to save the industry from crisis. But what it fails to say is that in reality, it has lowered its standards so that all milk producers can pass. Wang Dingmian, president of the Guangzhou Association, says the new standards are a retreat to standards that haven’t been used in 25 years and that they are the weakest of their kind in the world.

[…] Recently, the government announced that milk powder quality would be monitored using the same standards used for drugs. It also announced that a three-month milk powder safety campaign would be launched to weed out unqualified producers and boost consumer confidence.

This news conveys two messages: First, there are still industry vulnerabilities that need to be threatened and loopholes that need to be dealt with. Second, there are companies that still do not follow quality and safety standards, and they will be eliminated. Why is it that after all these years these issues persist? And is the Chinese government capable of establishing a long-term monitoring mechanism for baby formula?

[…] The Chinese milk industry has to go through the process of rebirth that comes after sinking so low. The melamine-tainted milk scandal should have been a turning point for Chinese producers. But because they were protected by the government, they missed the opportunity, which has resulted in the corruption that is prevalent today in the sector. [Source]

Also see prior CDT coverage of milk contamination, food safety, and China’s dairy industry.