Authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou have uncovered a fresh infant milk powder scandal in which a company was selling fake imported baby milk to cater to massive demand for foreign brands among worried parents, official media reported.
The Suzhou-based Hero Import and Export (Suzhou) Co. is under investigation following allegations that its Netherlands-branded "Hero" baby milk came from a number of unidentified sources, state television reported via a weekly consumer show this week.
The news has sparked outrage among Chinese netizens and further fears of contamination among worried parents.
"I am so angry!" wrote a user identified as @hetaoxiaopengyouer on a Twitter-like microblogging service. "That is the exact same brand our baby drinks, and they swore blind it was totally imported."
User @xintaibeipinghele wasn't surprised at the news, however. "Things like this happen all the time in a shameless, lawless, immoral, and godless country like ours."
Xing Zhihong, whose child was made sick by melamine-tainted infant formula made by Sanlu in a nationwide scandal that first came to light in 2008, called for severe punishment of those responsible.
"Of course I'm annoyed; of course this isn't right," Xing said. "What they did was against the law."
"At this stage of life, the babies are growing, and it will affect every part of their bodies; their internal organs, everywhere," she said.
"They shouldn't just be severely punished; they should be severely punished according to the law."
Sold after investigation
Media reports revealed that the milk powder, which carried the "Hero" logo under the brand name Meisu Li'er, had continued to be sold across Suzhou in spite of an investigation into quality issues that started last November.
The products weren't removed from shelves until this month, sparking further anger among netizens.
"Why didn't they remove it from the shelves when they were investigating it?" commented microblogger @qianjinzhongdefeidongwenguangxin.
"How many innocent children have been harmed by this milk powder? The irresponsible way in which the relevant department acted is also a problem."
An employee who answered the phone at the Suzhou municipal government's quality control bureau hotline was unable to give any information about the product, however.
Meanwhile, an employee who answered the phone at a supermarket in Suzhou's Changning district said the shop had stopped selling the brand.
"It has all been taken away. We aren't selling it any more," the employee said.
Beijing-based lawyer Li Fangping said the local quality control officials had managed the case very poorly.
"If they already knew, and had already failed [the milk powder] in quality control tests, then the commerce and industry departments should order a product recall, or put it in sealed storage," Li said.
Li said part of the problem lay in a lack of communication between different departments and agencies at the same level of government.
"They need a connected system that informs people automatically," he said.
An estimated 300,000 children were made ill by infant formula milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine in a scandal that first broke in September 2008.
Chinese officials said recently that 99 percent of home-produced infant formula milk passes quality standards.
But activist Jiang Yalin, who founded the charity group Kidney Stone Babies, said there had been no improvement in quality standards since the melamine scandal.
"This was something that first came out in November, but they didn't take any action whatsoever, and the goods kept entering the marketplace," she said.
"Anything these regulatory agencies do has to be regarded with suspicion."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.