Starting from October, parents in Beijing and Jiangsu province will be able to buy baby formula from vending machines in 20 designated pharmacies, according to an announcement by the China Association of International Trade Center (which falls under the Ministry of Commerce). There are plans to expand the vending machines to another 20,000 pharmacies nationwide by 2015.
Xu Jing, head of the center, was quoted in China Daily as saying that the purchase and distribution of milk power in the pharmacies would be conducted by the Ministry of Commerce. To guarantee quality control, sales will be only be permitted through the machines; that means no purchases can be made at the pharmacy counter.
Many Chinese mothers still debate whether to continue feeding their children milk powder after a string of heartbreaking local and foreign scandals. This move by the Ministry Commerce is designed to boost their confidence in food safety.
But how safe is the new distribution system? The latter should help filter counterfeit and unlicensed milk powder, but neither the deadly 2008 domestic Sanlu incident or the more recent international Fonterra scandal could be blamed on sales channels. Rather, they were caused by improper manufacturing processes and the poor quality of the milk source. What’s more, both companies were registered and legally allowed to process milk powder. Can distributing milk formula through pharmacies prevent similar incidents from happening in the future?
Choosing a baby formula is never easy in China. My sister, who also happens to be a pharmacist, recently thought of giving up milk power for her 2-year-old. She frequently switches brands to offset the risk, but the downside is that her daughter’s body does not take well to constant change.
We don’t know whether selling milk power in pharmacies will do much to improve safety, but she figures that at least her pharmacy is more likely to maintain an air-conditioned environment (under 25°C) that will be favorable to milk powder storage.
Photo courtesy of Yangtse Evening News