China’s infant nutrition compliance: Regulator steps up checks on manufacturers, mum-and-baby stores

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

China is stepping up its compliance checks on food manufacturers and retailers to stem the unauthorised production and sales of Foods for Special Medical Purpose (FSMPs). © Getty Images
China is stepping up its compliance checks on food manufacturers and retailers to stem the unauthorised production and sales of Foods for Special Medical Purpose (FSMPs). © Getty Images

Related tags: China, Infant nutrition, Regulation

China is stepping up its compliance checks on food manufacturers and retailers to stem the unauthorised production and sales of special foods, including Foods for Special Medical Purpose (FSMPs).

The initiative comes as the country confronts yet another case of infant nutrition scandal. This time round, the parents of the infants and toddlers affected claimed that their children have suffered health problems such as eczema and skull deformity.

The product in question is a protein solid beverage branded ‘Bei An Min’. It also claims to be a ‘deep hydrolysis protein and lactose-free formula powder’.

‘Solid beverages’ are in fact, powdered beverages. The Chinese regulator State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) defines it as a form of ordinary food prepared by processing raw food materials, food additives etc into powder, granules or lumps.

It differs from FSMPs in terms of the formula, production technique, product label, and instruction for use. However, the mum-and-baby store involved in the saga was said to have marketed it as an alternative infant formula.

A few days after the scandal was brought to light, the SAMR​ has announced a clampdown exercise to 1) stem unapproved manufacturing of special foods, 2) stem the addition of non-food additives, medicines, and other substances which could pose a health risk.

It will also crackdown on products that 3) make disease prevention or treatment claims, as well as 4) the selling of ordinary foods as special foods.

Primary findings

The Administration for Market Regulation of Hunan Province – the region where the saga unfolded – yesterday said investigation has shown that the owners of the mum-and-baby store in question were suspected of marketing the protein solid beverage as a FSMP.

They are thus accused of false product marketing and would be punished accordingly. Two provincial officials were also sacked.

Investigations also showed that the firm owning the product, Hunan Waverock, has manufactured the product via a contract manufacturer from Tianjin. The manufacturing firm also presented a report on the product having passed inspection checks.  

The five children affected were found to suffer from malnutrition and other problems such as low weight and low vitamin D3 intake, but their head circumference remained at the “normal range”, according to the Hunan market regulator.

Further investigation is underway.

Targets

On the other hand, the clamp down exercise led by the SAMR will target manufacturers, contract manufacturers of solid beverages, pressed candies, and retailers.

The retailers include the mum-and-baby product stores, hospitals, direct-sellers, and online retailers.

China has approved 48 FSMPs​ as of May 13. Of which, 29 are for infants between 0 to 12 months old.

They include lactose free formulas, products for pre-term and low birth weight infants, partially hydrolysed whey protein formula and extensively hydrolysed whey protein (or amino acid) formula.

Three stages

Divided into three stages, the first stage of the clampdown will start with a self-examination of the food manufacturers – a process which they will need to complete by July 31.

They will need submit information such as the types of products that they manufacture, the sources of their raw food materials, and product labelling.

This is followed by a nearly three-month long investigation process to identify and punish rules breaching firms.

The final stage is to conclude the clampdown and improve on the related measures in November.

The SAMR will conduct its checks based on the information submitted by the manufacturers’ self-examination and sample testing.

It has also called for provincial regulators to test for unauthorised addition of medicines such as gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), metformin hydrochloride acid, ibuprofen, sildenafil, and other compounds that could pose a health risk.

Local actions

Local market regulators from regions, including those from the Zhejiang province, have begun their operation.

It said it had conducted checks​ on over 12k food operators and one FSMPs manufacturer. 

On the other hand, checks on the mum-and-baby product stores revealed problems such as 1) false product marketing, 2) missing Chinese labelling on imported milk powder products, 3) placing ordinary food products on the counters selling special dietary products.

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