China Faces Yet Another Poison Baby Formula Scandal

Authorities in central China’s Hunan province are investigating a store for selling fake baby formula, state-run Shanghai news outlet Sixth Tone reported.

At least five infants were diagnosed with rickets after drinking a protein drink “passed off” as baby formula by the store, parents allege.

In Chenzhou’s Yongxing county, government officials have launched an investigation into the alleged sale of a protein drink known as “Bei An Min,” falsely advertised as milk formula by staff at a store called Love Baby’s Workshop, according to local parents, who say their babies developed swollen heads after drinking the protein beverage. All five babies have been diagnosed with rickets, a children’s disease caused by Vitamin D deficiency that leads to bone deformations.

The parents of the five babies filed a complaint with Yongxing county’s market supervision authorities, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Wednesday.

“When we heard the truth, I almost collapsed. The whole time we thought it was milk formula like the shop assistant said,” one of the parents, a mother named Zhu, told Sixth Tone. “But it turned out to be just a powdered beverage — meaning my daughter was drinking [this instead of infant formula] for two years!”

According to the report, the five babies were diagnosed as allergic to dairy by their doctors at a local hospital. The doctors then recommended the babies’ parents purchase an “amino acid-based formula” instead of traditional dairy milk formula. All parents of the five babies went to the same baby products store to buy the special formula — a local branch of the national chain Love Baby’s Workshop — where “Bei An Min” was recommended to them by staff.

Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, spoke to Yongxing County’s market regulation bureau on Wednesday, who said that the investigation into the case was still pending and that, so far, no foul play on the part of local doctors or hospitals has been found.

In December 2019, several parents accused doctors at a local Chenzhou hospital of conspiring with a pharmacy located within the hospital to promote a non-dairy “amino acid-based formula” sold there, in an almost identical case. The hospital suspended two doctors for providing the parents with misleading advice after the beverage was recalled by manufacturers and found to be harmful to the babies who drank it. At the time, Chenzhou authorities promised to conduct a full investigation of local hospitals and pharmacies over the matter.

On Thursday, the Hunan provincial government said that the local Love Baby’s Workshop was under investigation for fraud and false advertising, adding that the “the law will strictly punish” anyone found guilty of misleading parents, Beijing News reports.

China suffered its first major baby formula scandal in 2008 when six babies died and about 300,000 were made sick after drinking Chinese-made formula laced with melamine, a toxic chemical used to make plastics. Melamine had been added to the formula to artificially boost protein levels, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

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