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article imageChina considering harsh regulations for infant formulas

By Karen Graham     Apr 20, 2015 in Food
China's State Council is considering an amendment to the current advertising law that would prohibit advertising of infant milk formulas. The ban on ads for infant formula is an attempt to tackle the low levels of breast-feeding across the country.
China's State Council on Monday took on the difficult task of putting harsher regulations on infant milk formulas in an attempt to restore public confidence in the country's dairy companies. This task is but one of the issues involving infant formulas the council is studying.
Ban on advertising powdered baby formula
The council is also mulling over a draft amendment to the Advertising law that would put a ban on ads for infant formulas. This is a bid to tackle the low numbers of mothers breastfeeding nationwide, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The ban would include "mass media or public places for dairy products, drinks and other foods that "claim to partly or completely substitute mother's milk," said Xinhua. The draft amendment was brought up before the bi-monthly legislative session of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee that will run through Friday.
Tougher regulations on powdered infant formulas
Going back to the tougher regulations being considered, manufacturers will be required to register their powdered baby milk formula with the food and drug regulatory agency, according to the wording in the draft amendment to the Food Safety law.
This particular policy change is stricter than the change made in December, 2014. That amendment only required manufacturers to make sure their formulas were on record. Stricter laws are needed. Consumers in China lost all trust in baby formulas made in China after the 2008 baby formula scandal. Milk and powdered milk was adulterated with melamine, and an estimated 300,000 infants in China became ill, with 54,000 being hospitalized and six children dying.
There are over 1,000 varieties of baby formula produced in China. Each company has 20 or more varieties of formula each. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, companies in other parts of the world produce and sell two or three varieties of baby formula.
"Some producers [are creating] new formulas purely for the sake of marketing," said the lawmakers. "This review of infant formula legislation aims to ensure infant food safety." Perhaps the number of companies and the enormous variety of infant formulas available now is reason enough to ban advertising. But the ban is certain to aggravate producers, hoping to take a bigger chunk of an $18 billion market in China alone.
Reuters reported on Monday, that according to the consultancy Euromonitor, China's baby formula market is expected to grow to over $30 billion by 2017. Euromonitor says Danone SA, Mead Johnson Nutrition Co and New Zealand dairy exporter Fonterra Co-Operative Group Ltd. are chomping at the bit to get in on the market. It will be interesting to find out if Euromonitor changes its forecast after the Council's meeting this week.
New provisions on special foods for medical use
Currently, special foods intended for medical use are unregulated. Lawmakers are considering adding a provision to the Food Safety Law covering formula foods. This would include formula foods consumed by people with certain diseases. Up until 2013, when the health authorities unveiled the new drugs law, special food was considered a drug. The formula food was taken out of the drug law and production was unregulated.
For the past several years, Beijing has been cracking down on quality and malpractice at the corporate level in powdered infant formula producers. A number of global powdered infant formula makers were hit with huge fines in 2013, allegedly for price fixing and bribing doctors in rural areas to push their formulas.
If the new advertising ban proposal is passed, advertisers, clients, agents and publishers violating the ban would be liable for fines of up to million yuan (US$161,220), Xinhua said. The news agency also added that China's State Council has great expectations of raising the exclusive breast feeding level in the nation to 50 percent by 2020.
More about powdered infant formula, Breast feeding, ban on advertising, China, State Council
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