Bulk orders from mainland put Dutch supplies at risk

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 January, 2011, 12:00am

One of the chief producers of baby milk powder in the Netherlands has had to restrict sales to China after bulk buying by mainland traders left Dutch customers in short supply.

Nutricia is one of the Netherlands' biggest medical-nutrition companies and its Nutrilon milk powder has been in great demand on the mainland after the melamine-tainted milk scandal.

In 2008, on the mainland, at least six children died and about 300,000 developed kidney problems because of baby formula laced with melamine, an industrial additive used illegally to help milk pass protein tests by raising nitrogen levels.

Mainland authorities ordered the destruction of all confiscated tainted milk powder that year, but stocks have repeatedly surfaced, especially in remote regions. Last July, authorities seized 76 tonnes of contaminated milk powder on its way to Gansu province to be made into dairy products. Because of this, mainland traders have been looking overseas for safe sources of milk powder. Since last year, Nutrilon has been imported in bulk and repackaged for the local market, resulting in Dutch shops and supermarkets running low on milk powder.

A Nutricia spokesman said that while the company had boosted production of Nutrilon in the Netherlands to rectify the shortfall, it was also 'in the process of limiting all exports of Nutrilon to China'.

Nutricia exports its products around the world, including to China. However, despite the fact that bulk Nutrilon milk powder is exactly the same as that packaged in the Netherlands, mainland parents are and would rather use the imported version.

Using imported milk powder brings different risks, however. For example, on the imported products the instructions on how much Nutrilon milk powder to use for each age group are printed in Dutch - it's the same for all imported milk powder. This means that mainland parents may have to guess how much they can give their child.

Despite this, mainland families are happy to take this chance as recent developments have further aroused their suspicions about any milk powder made in China.

A fortnight ago, police detained almost 100 people for recycling melamine-tainted milk powder that was supposed to have been destroyed two years ago, according to state media. The Food Safety Commission Office of the State Council said authorities investigated 40 cases involving tainted milk and seized 2,132 tonnes of milk powder, either contaminated milk powder left over from two years ago or mixtures of the contaminated powder and other milk powder.

This exposure of tainted milk products in poor and remote parts of the northwest shows that food-safety problems persist.

Authorities announced this month that since the melamine tragedy in 2008, 55 people had been charged and 17 of them convicted, two receiving life imprisonment. The rest were still under investigation. Nine officials had been sacked.

A sour tale

Mainland authorities recently said they investigated this many cases of tainted milk powder: 40