Retailers started pulling a brand of imported baby formula off shelves yesterday after a media report revealed that the Chinese distributor had repackaged the product in China and mixed it with expired milk powder.
The news came as a shock to parents who have been favouring imported baby formula after food-safety scandals that have plagued the dairy industry since 2008, when melamine-tainted milk killed six children and sickened more than 300,000 others. The owner of the Chinese sub-distributor, Mou Jun, was also detained last night.
State-run CCTV aired the investigative report about Netherlands-based Hero Group's Nutradefense at noon yesterday. Soon after the report, Shanghai authorities ordered that 1.3 tonnes of the infant formula be pulled from shelves, and online retail giants such as 360buy.com and Tmall.com also removed the product, Xinhua reported.
However, questions lingered yesterday as to why action was not taken sooner to remove the product from shelves, as both CCTV and authorities in Suzhou , Jiangsu , apparently knew about the scandal months ago. In November, the only authorised Chinese dealer of Hero's Nutradefense, in Suzhou, was shut down and its legal representative was detained pending criminal charges for illegally processing the formula.
The dealer was the Xile Lier Import and Export Co, and it was the only company authorised by Hero Group to distribute the product on the mainland.
The CCTV report said the Chinese dealer was suspected of putting new expiration dates on older products before repackaging them with a Chinese label. Xile Lier was also suspected by authorities of mixing imported milk powder with expired powder and then replacing the production and expiration dates.
Xinhua said yesterday that among the 17 batches of powder seized, only three met the mainland's standards. Another document obtained by CCTV indicated that Nutradefense formula worth 50 million yuan (HK$61.8 million) was seized at the Suzhou workshop. The company was also suspected of taking formula intended for older infants and repackaging it as suitable for younger infants.
CCTV learned in November about the formula's production line being shut down by quality inspectors in Suzhou.
Some parents interviewed by the station also alleged that the Nutradefense formula contained tiny worms, and that the expiration dates had been changed.
Hero's Dutch headquarters issued a statement last night saying all its products sold in China were safe. "A recent investigation by the Suzhou Institute of Supervision & Inspection on Product Quality alleged that one of Hero's sub-distributors in China has been involved in the illegal repackaging of Nutradefense. This has been investigated by the Suzhou authorities and dealt with appropriately," it said.