CHINA - Authorities are to require that all baby formula on the Chinese mainland be sold in pharmacies or in shops that are qualified to sell medicines, a move aimed at improving consumer confidence in formula products while weeding out fake brands.
However, some experts say changing sales channels will do little to improve safety standards or allay consumer fears in the wake of the Fonterra milk powder scandal.
The China Association of International Trade under the Ministry of Commerce announced that domestic and foreign baby formula will be sold in 20 pharmacies in Beijing and Jiangsu province as of October, in a pilot programme that will be extended to 20,000 pharmacies in 500 cities by 2015.
Some experts said the move reflects Premier Li Keqiang's announcement in late May that baby formula would be subject to the same strict supervision standards as medicines and that fake products would be removed from the market.
"We heard that supermarkets and chain stores specialising in baby products will also need to acquire the qualifications for selling medicines before they can sell infant formula," said Cao Mingshi, deputy secretary-general of the Shanghai Dairy Association. "In this way, the counterfeit and substandard infant formula sold in farmers' markets and grocery stores will be banned," he said.
Some experts and industry insiders, however, are less than confident of the likely effectiveness of the new moves.
"The quality of baby formula products isn't decided by the sales channel but by previous manufacturing processes and the quality of the milk source and raw materials," said Wang Dingmian, former director of the Dairy Association of China.
"The focus of food safety efforts should be on the supervision of the production process. The quality of milk powder remains the same as the place of sale changes," he said.
Some consumers also expressed confusion over the new policy. "I won't take the place of sale as a criterion for evaluating infant formula. I don't have any idea how it will help to upgrade the quality of products," said Chen Zhongqi, the mother of a 5-month-old boy in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.