China to step up monitoring of baby milk powder

A family looks at foreign imported milk powder products at a supermarket in Beijing July 3, 2013.
Image caption Foreign brands of baby milk formula are popular in China

China's food safety watchdog says it will increase its scrutiny of baby milk powder after a contamination scare at New Zealand's Fonterra.

The China Food and Drug Administration says it will severely punish companies found to have slack safety or quality standards.

The body is telling firms to improve management and supervision.

Foreign branded milk powder has been highly popular in China as it is viewed as more reliable and of higher quality.

Breast feeding is not popular in China where powdered milk, particularly foreign powdered milk, is seen as superior.

The market is highly lucrative. Overseas brands are sometimes twice the price of local formula, and the size of the market is expected to double to $25bn by 2015, according to market watchers Euromonitor.

Safety issues

However, there have been a series of scandals over milk power.

In 2008, six babies died and thousands more were made ill through drinking milk contaminated with melamine.

The latest scare came after Fonterra's baby milk powder was found to contain whey protein that contained a bacteria that can cause botulism. The company has apologised for the lapse.

The food safety watchdog said: "A lack of responsibility, unclear policies and lax supervision led to recent safety issues over infant milk formula, and it is necessary to improve the quality and safety of milk powder to regain consumer confidence."

Earlier this week, China fined six companies, including Fonterra, for colluding to fix prices.

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