The strange case of baby formula and the Chinese

About 20 million children are born each year in China, and all but a quarter are bottle fed. Several brands of formula in Australia and New Zealand are disappearing from the shelves and being shipped to China, where they are selling for up to $100 per tin, five times the price in Australia.

Some Chinese families are getting the formula sent to them by rellies resident in Australia.Formula is also being sold from the pallet. Some people have set themselves up as traders, with multiple names at the same address to beat the 8-can per customer limit placed by Woolworths. Online selling is another avenue.

As a result Sydney mums have had to go to as many as 20 stores to keep up their supply.

Back in 2008 six infants died from melamine-tainted milk in a contamination scandal in China. It seems the new middle class do not trust the “Made in China” label. Also dodgy advertising has used child prodigies and sports stars to trumpet the benefits of certain brands.

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The brands concerned are “organic” or “A2”. I’m told you need a special kind of cow to produce A2, so increasing supply will take time. As for ‘organic’, I read recently in the New Scientist that while research on the nutritional value of organic produce was practically impossible (you’d need to grow the stuff in the same paddock and feed controlled groups over a long period of time) most experts think organic has no particular advantage, with one exception. That happens to be dairy. Sorry, I can’t remember why. It could have to do with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

I doubt the advantage would be great, however, and certainly not as good as mothers’ milk. Nevertheless, the label “organic” is perhaps taken as a sign that the producers have taken special care not to poison their customers through pesticide residues and antibiotics.

A quick google on A2 milk raised questions:

    Statements linking A1 beta-casein with diabetes, coronary heart disease, autism and schizophrenia have been labelled as “irresponsible” by Australian nutritionist Rosemary Stanton, who doubts the health benefits of A2 milk. She also raised questions about the reliability of peer-reviewed research undertaken by Curtin University, and paid for by A2 Milk, which found A2 milk could be easier to digest than regular cow milk.

As one would expect there are screams that the government should do something! But where markets rule, what exactly can the government do?

They talk, that’s what they do, to supermarkets and pharmacy representatives.

Unfortunately the booming black market for infant formula leaves farmers out in the cold. All the action is beyond the farm gate.

One thought on “The strange case of baby formula and the Chinese”

  1. This post raises the question of the extent to which an Australian government would be able to ensure the supply of food and other essential in the world of trade agreements.

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