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Risky Business: China’s Formula Freak-Out


At baby showers in the United States, we coo and fawn over cute onesies, pastel crib sheets and the sweetest baby toys. But imagine a parallel universe where star gift at your shower is imported formula – because the product sold in your country might be tainted.

That’s what Chinese moms are up against, and their insistence on foreign formula from places like Hong Kong and Japan are landing some of them in handcuffs. Ever since 2008, especially, when 300,000 infants were affected by reactions to tainted baby formula (6 babies died), Chinese parents have been extra wary of the formula sold by China’s major manufacturers.

Plus: Finding the Right Baby Formula

Yili Group, one of China’s main baby formula manufacturers, recently issued a recall of its formula due to high mercury contamination, and others have recalled because of cancer-causing agents. 

Chinese culture is one that historically holds human milk in especially high regard for its medicinal properties (there’s a Chinese expression that means, “Human milk cures 100 illnesses”). So it is perhaps surpising the Chinese have turned away from breastfeeding as industrialization and modernization have spread throughout the once-agriculturally-driven country, according to Newsweek.

Plus: Does Formula Spoil?

Other sources report that Chinese mothers are equally concerned with the quality of their own breastmilk, partly due to the pollution in major cities like Beijing.

Chinese officials have pledged their efforts to quell the formula freak-out, but so far, no details have been issued and parents’ fears have not been calmed. One drug investigator told Forbes magazine that he believes more infant deaths are likely unless something changes.