China’s state broadcaster has concluded that several foreign brands of infant formula don’t measure up to the country’s nutrition standards — but netizens by and large aren’t buying it.
“Consumer Advocate,” which airs on China Central Television, reported Wednesday that of the six brands of foreign milk powder for infants up to 6 months old that it tested — Nutrilon from the Netherlands, Aptamil from Germany, Enfamil and Abbott from the U.S., and Meiji and Icreo from Japan — the latter four failed to meet national standards. By comparison, the three domestic brands the show tested — Feihe, Sanyuan, and Wondersun — all passed with flying colors.
The show’s results were surprising to many, seeing as Chinese parents have been hesitant to put the health of their children in the hands of local companies since 2008. That year, domestic milk powder contaminated with melamine killed six children and caused kidney damage in some 300,000 others — though the three brands tested by “Consumer Advocate” were not involved in the scandal.
“Consumer Advocate” sent samples from each of the nine brands to divisions of the central Ministry of Agriculture, the Beijing Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau, and other labs, which tested for 52 vitamins, minerals, and other contents. “All the secrets of these nine products will be thoroughly exposed,” said the report.
While the three domestic brands were hailed for their “extraordinary performances” during testing, two-thirds of the foreign brands failed to meet China’s national standard for infant formula. The standard was revised in 2010, and is stricter than international standards for some recommended concentrations. In June 2013, the China Food and Drug Administration called China’s standard for milk powder “more in line with the nutritional needs of Chinese infants.”
According to tests, samples of Abbott and Enfamil formula contained 0.497 milligrams and 0.436 milligrams of iron, respectively, per 100 kilojoules, exceeding China’s standard of 0.10 to 0.36 milligrams.
The worldwide standard proposed by the World Health Organization and the United Nations, meanwhile, stipulates that infant formula should contain a minimum of 0.1 milligrams of iron per 100 kilojoules but encourages individual countries to set their own upper limits — 0.72 milligrams in the U.S., for example.
One of the experts who helped set China’s standards for infant formula, Nan Qingxian of China Agricultural University in Beijing, told CCTV that the stricter limit was necessary because consuming too much iron can cause nausea and vomiting, as well as bleeding in the digestive system.
In another example explained by different national standards, Meiji’s iodine content of 2.12 micrograms per 100 kilojoules is lower than the Chinese minimum of 2.5 micrograms. According to Nan, Japan’s milk products have less strict iodine requirements, in part because most Japanese get all the iodine they need from their seafood-heavy diets.
For the most part, Chinese net users have scoffed at the revelations of subpar nutrition in foreign formula products, saying that as long as they met the standards of their own countries, the products were fit for consumption.
“Thanks for recommending these six foreign brands!” quipped one commenter.
What didn’t help the credibility of CCTV’s investigation is the fact that one of the three domestic brands, Feihe, is included in CCTV’s “National Brand Plan” — a listing of Chinese companies the national broadcaster has agreed to promote.
Net users also pointed to the fact that CCTV bought the foreign milk powder through unofficial channels — so-called haitao shopping where the products are bought overseas by Chinese e-commerce websites.
In response to the program, both Enfamil and Abbott told online news outlet NetEase on Thursday that the products they produce and sell in China fully comply with the country’s national standards. Enfamil added that while it respects Chinese consumers’ right to choose how they purchase products, it recommends they obtain infant formula from official channels.
A 31-year-old Shanghai native surnamed Xu told Sixth Tone that CCTV’s test would not shake her preference for foreign brands. “Chinese parents still have a lingering fear,” she said, referring to the 2008 melamine scare. “We just want reliable sources and brands.”
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Customers purchase foreign brands of milk powder at a store selling imported goods in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Jan. 23, 2015. Xiao Xiong/VCG)