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Tainted milk

January 19, 2012

Food scandals erupt regularly in China, with milk formula among those products most prone to contamination. Worried parents have therefore started buying non-Chinese powder online from countries such as Germany.

German baby formula
German dairy products are subsidized and thus comparatively cheapImage: DW

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao once said he had a dream that each child in China should have enough milk to drink - half a liter a day if possible. The consumption of milk has risen considerably over the past few years in this Asian country where milk was not traditionally drunk. However, this has coincided with a series of food scandals that have increased consumer distrust.

Last week, a baby in rural Jiangxi province died after allegedly drinking milk formula made by Synutra International, a leading Chinese formula company. In December, a quality watchdog found cancer-causing fungi in products made at Mengniu Dairy based in Inner Mongolia - one of the country's biggest. And in 2008, some 300,000 infants became ill and at least six died after drinking powdered milk that had been laced with melamine, an industrial chemical used to give misleading levels of protein.

A Chinese baby cries
In 2008, hundreds of thousands of infants became ill after drinking tainted milkImage: AP

Xiao Xuan, who chose to use an alias, was studying in Germany at the time and started sending German powdered milk to her relatives. She then realized that many Chinese people were buying German formula online and started doing the math. Soon afterwards she launched an online baby formula business for Chinese consumers.

Every week, she visits the drugstore to buy large quantities of formula. She knows all about the different brands in terms of quality and price. Her online selection reflects the range available in many German supermarkets.

Xiao's company is one of 3,000 online sites selling German baby formula in China - and demand is growing.

Zhou Qing, who has published several books on food insecurity in China, says the scandals in the dairy industry can be attributed to the fact that there are many unqualified people in the field who have been attracted to the massive profits that can be made. He is not surprised that German formula is doing so well in China: "The price of milk powder is comparatively low because of subsidies."

This is one reason why Tina, a young mother from Shanghai, has turned to buying German formula. She told Deutsche Welle she was skeptical at first about using the Internet to buy powdered milk but she soon got used to it because it is so much cheaper than buying imported products in a supermarket. And what’s more, the quality is guaranteed.

Thanks to Germany's help, Wen Jiaobao's dream may soon come true.

Author: Liu Yi, Florian Struth (act)
Editor: Darren Mara

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