Supplies running dry

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 February, 2011, 12:00am

One of the main producers of baby milk powder in the Netherlands has had to restrict sales to China. Shops on the mainland have bought so much of the product for their customers that there isn't enough left for Dutch buyers.

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

In 2008, at least six children died on the mainland and about 300,000 developed kidney problems because of tainted baby formula. The powder had been laced with melamine, which is used illegally to make it look like milk is high in protein when it is not.

Mainland authorities ordered the destruction of all tainted milk powder that year. But it has been found again, especially in remote regions. Last July, authorities seized 76 tonnes of contaminated milk powder on its way to Gansu province. Because of this, mainland traders have been looking overseas for safe milk powder. Since last year, large amounts of Nutrilon have been imported, resulting in Dutch shops running low on the milk powder.

A Nutricia spokesman said the company had boosted production of Nutrilon and was also 'in the process of limiting all exports of Nutrilon to China'.

Mainland parents would rather use such imported milk powder. But using the imported product brings risks. For example, on the Netherlands-packaged product, the instructions on how much Nutrilon milk powder should be used for each age group are printed in Dutch. This means many mainland parents may have to guess how much they can give their child.

Despite this, mainland families are happy to take this chance. Many are suspicious of any milk powder made in China.

About a month ago, police detained almost 100 people for recycling melamine-tainted milk powder. That powder 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. It said 2,132 tonnes of contaminated milk powder had been seized.

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

Authorities announced last month that since the melamine tragedy in 2008, 55 people had been charged and 17 of them convicted. Two had received life in prison. Nine officials had been sacked.