Chinese premier vows closer monitoring of baby formula safety, says it affects nation's future

BEIJING, China – Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has vowed to tighten the monitoring of production of milk powder for babies and crack down on safety violators, saying the quality of infant formula affects the nation’s future.

Li’s comments appeared aimed at trying to restore public confidence in China’s dairy industry, which has been mired in product safety and image problems.

Li told a meeting of Cabinet officials Friday that the quality of infant formula should be tested with the same standards used for medicines and that each step of the production process must be monitored.

Li said the safety of infant formula “concerned the healthy growth of the next generation and concerned the happiness of millions of families and the country’s future,” according to a statement posted on the central government’s website.

Concerns about the safety of domestic milk powder have fueled Chinese demand for foreign-made infant formula, leading to bulk-buying in Hong Kong, Britain and some other countries.

In 2004, fake Chinese milk powder left at least a dozen babies dead from malnutrition. In 2008, infant formula that was tainted with an industrial chemical, melamine, killed at least six babies and sickened nearly 300,000 others with kidney stones and other illnesses. Melamine was added to watered-down milk to make it appear to have higher protein content.

The premier also said a system should be set up to supervise the sale of infant formula on the Internet and improve the monitoring of the quality of imported milk powder.

Li said milk producers, transporters or collection stations that fail to meet safety standards must be banned and violators of safety laws must be strictly punished.