Doubts about Abbott Laboratories Infant Formula to meet Chinese Quality standards
March 24, 2012 by Eric Blanchard
A controversial report
03/24/2012. An infant formula sold on the Chinese market by Abbott Laboratories is accused not to be meet Chinese required quality standards. The accusations, released in a CER Research report, are supported by the comments of several relevant research specialists in the infant nutrition area. But the scientific value of the analysis is questioned as most of these experts want their name to be retracted from the report. Eric Blanchard is displaying his point of view upon the situation.
Summary of the situation
A CER Research report accused Similac Stage 1 formula to score below Chinese quality standards limits, and to rank last on quality test between six products bought on the Chinese market. The German laboratory, Muva Kempten, analyzed the product and found a “very low level of whey/casein and a very high heat treatment intensity, both of them significant negative factors with regard to infant formula”. The results were later confirmed by the Australian DTS FOOD laboratories. The release of the report coincide with another affaire about Abbott products. The day before, the Chinese media were revelling the story of an Abbott customer who says he had found a plastic piece inside a milk powder package which he bought for his 14 months-old daughter.
This affaire is subject to controversy, as 5 of the 6 international experts who were cited in the report asked CER to retract their opinions of the conclusions. Like Dr. Didier DuPont (INRA), who declared he did not allowed CER to publish his personal comments, and Dr Scott Rankin (US Madison University), who did not support the issueing of the report and found its headline inappropriate.
Even if the Chinese public opinion has taken a major concern about infant formula quality after the 2008 melamine scandal, Abbott seemed not to be affected by the CER Research report. The $ 30 billion revenue American company refuted the scientific consistency of the paper, and claimed its intentions to continue its progression on the Chinese market as a driving strategy for its economic growth.
The expert point of view, by Eric Blanchard
Beyond the veracity of evidences provided by the press, this affaire remembers us the great sensitivity of the infant formula industry when product quality is questioned or discussed, and the necessary vigilance when managing the communication.
Personally, I draw several lessons and comments about it:
The quality of food dedicated to our young children should always be the leitmotiv, and the raison of being, of infant milk formulas manufacturers and distributors.
Unfortunately, the strong growth of the infant formula market could drive us to the emergence of opportunistic players who do not control the essential rules of the business. Producing infant formula requires a very specific know-how, obtained after years of implementation and operations as well as a specific expertise to ensure safe and hygienic products. With such conditions, no one can start playing in this business without having demonstrated its competencies. Hopefully, the observed market evolution toward premium products conducts to a natural selection of potential players, and it leaves less and less room to opportunism.
In this affaire, the information on the quality of milk proteins make me believe that the nutritional regulation will have to evolve. It will have to consider not only the today quantitative criteria, but also the qualitative criteria. This qualitative consideration is linked to the presence of certain marker limits, guaranteeing the native property of infant formula components.
When infant formula is considered as an exclusive nutritive source, the original purpose of using it is to meet baby nutritional needs. The notions of components bioavailability and digestion quality are directly linked to nutrient native properties. And this should be taken more and more in account when developing infant formulas.
Technically, this will mean for manufacturers an enhanced concern for:
- Selecting raw materials, with a high nutritional quality, produced by well controlled and optimised processes.
- Controlling the impact of the processes used to produce infant formula. Logically, this will require to conduct fundamental research to understand the interactions between products and processes. This will lead to a better control and to an improvement of processes parameters.
Those are the reasons why LISA has been investigating for years for a better comprehension of this operational phenomena. But LISA also acts in developing new configurations of manufacturing processes, using new technologies that will improve the conservation of native properties of the nutrients that are essential to our children.
In: Industry news