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China premier vows baby formula safety checks

02 june 2013, 13:34
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has called for strict monitoring of milk powder production, vowing to crack down on safety violators in a bid to regain public trust after a series of food safety scares in recent years, AFP reports.

A series of quality checks, including monitoring of baby formula products through electronic coding, were unveiled by Li at a cabinet meeting Friday, as he called for tighter regulation on the industry, according to the state-run China Daily.

A surge in demand for formula in China sparked by fears over the safety of domestic milk powder has seen shop shelves around the world cleared out by Chinese buyers and unofficial exporters.

Demand from the mainland is driven by memories of a 2008 scandal over Chinese formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine which killed six children and affected more than 300,000 others.

Distrust grew last year when another domestic manufacturer's formula was found to be contaminated with carcinogens, despite official pledges to clean up the industry.

"Under the food regulations, it is mainly producers that are responsible for safety, but under the regulations covering medicine, both producers and sellers are held responsible," China Daily quoted food safety expert Dong Jinshi as saying.

He said Li's remarks reflect the Chinese government's determination to rebuild the tattered reputation of the nation's dairy industry, according to the report.

Breastfeeding rates are low in China -- just 28 percent according to a 2012 UNICEF report -- due to time limits on maternity leave and aggressive marketing of formula.

But buyers are sceptical of any products sold in China, including foreign brands packaged for the Chinese market.

China is by far the world's largest market for formula, says consumer research group Euromonitor.

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