By Kalum Chen

Chinese authorities have arrested nine people in a recent milk powder scandal, which involved the production and selling of fake baby formula under the global brand Abbott’s Similac series and leading domestic seller Beingmate, according to the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA).

After its initial statement drew a massive public outcry, the watchdog said on April 6 that the statement was aimed at reminding consumers “not to panic” if they had bought the products.

The CFDA reemphasised at the Saturday press conference that all the fake baby formula “met national safety standards in terms of 14 key factors including microorganism and nutrition”. It said that the formula did not pose a health risk.

milk 1

The left one is the fake Abbott’s Similac formula.

milk 2

The suspects bought some kinds of baby formulas on the left and canned them into the cans on the right, which could be sold at a higher price.

The fake products had been sold in four provinces, including Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Hubei, according to Yan Zuqiang, head of the Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration.

According to the CFDA, three vendors in Hubei, Jiangsu and Anhui have voluntarily destroyed 3,300 cans after becoming suspicious of the powder, while Shanghai police have confiscated another 5,000 cans. There are still 3,300 cans of fake Similac powder left unaccounted for, and another vendor in Anhui confessed 3,600 cans of Beingmate had been sold.

Producing or selling counterfeit milk powder violates both commercial fraud and intellectual rights laws. The state authority said consumers could seek compensation from retailers.

The case has sparked questions from the public and media about why the government withheld information on the fake products for months after suspects were arrested.

Shanghai police started to probe the case after receiving reports in last September. From December 2015 to January 2016, they have arrested nine suspects and seized about 1,000 cans of milk powder, over 20,000 empty cans and 65,000 fake Similac trademarks.

However, the public only learned of the fake formula on March 22, when the Procuratorate Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate, revealed details of the case.

“This case was complicated, and involving eight provinces and cities. The criminals were very cunning, and their means were concealing. They made cans in one place, made labels in another place, and canned the powder in the third place. We had to spare no efforts to fix the criminal chains and evidence,” said Yan Zuqiang on the press conference, “if we release information at that stage, we may affect the police. Criminals may escape and evidence may be destroyed.”

The latest scandal was undoubtedly a fresh blow to sensitive Chinese consumers, whose trust in baby formula products was eroded by a 2008 case in which six infants died for consuming baby milk tainted with melamine.

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