Brawl shows low confidence in domestic dairy production

08:35, March 11, 2011      

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Customers shop on Thursday at a Mannings store in Hong Kong, where five shoppers were involved in a physical altercation over baby formula powder. [Photo/China Daily]

Five people involved in a physical altercation over baby formula powder in Hong Kong on Wednesday were convicted of fighting in a public place by a local court on Thursday.

The two women and three men had been arrested before their conviction by the Eastern Magistrate.

The clash started at a chain store in Wan Chai, where people rushed to buy imported baby formula when the store opened in the morning.

The incident highlighted the loss of confidence in domestically produced milk products, which was eroded by the 2008 scandal on the Chinese mainland in which at least six infants were killed and hundreds of thousands were made ill by melamine-tainted milk powder.

But a CPPCC National Committee member has said the wariness of domestic milk brands, which caused mainland parents to seek cheaper foreign alternatives in Hong Kong and Macao, will not last.

The apprehension is expected to gradually ease, as regulation of the mainland's dairy industry improves, Liu Peizhi, who is also the deputy head of the executive office of the State Council Food Safety Commission, told The Beijing News on Wednesday.

"I believe it's only temporary," Liu said.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, the country's top food-quality regulator, released in November a new regulation requiring dairy manufacturers to reapply for their production licenses or be shut down this year.

"The government's ongoing increases in regulation will improve the industry and rebuild its reputation," he said.

Wednesday's melee involved a father and son surnamed Huang from the mainland and three cousins surnamed Lim from Hong Kong.

The fight erupted when the younger Huang allegedly cut in line and tried to buy more than three tins - a quota set by the shop owner because of the shortage of the product.

Other customers called the police, and all the five people claimed to have been injured. The senior Huang said he was struck on the head with a tin.

They were discharged after treatment at Ruttonjee Hospital.

Rita Fan Hsu Lai-Tai, deputy to the National People's Congress and former president of Legislative Council of Hong Kong, said she sympathizes with desperate mainland mothers who seek to purchase baby formula in Hong Kong for the sake of their infants' health.

The Guangzhou-based New Express Daily quoted her on Tuesday as saying: "Those who harmed others' health for profit have completely lost their consciences."

She also called for stricter enforcement of the food safety amendment to the Criminal Law, adopted by the county's top legislature last month.

The amendment raises the minimum penalties for crimes related to the production and sale of tainted food from short-term criminal detention to prison terms of up to five years.

Hong Kong's government does not plan to impose duties on milk powder exported from Hong Kong because of its free trade policy.

A survey of 185 mothers with children younger than age 2 conducted outside of pharmacies and supermarkets in Hong Kong last month found 77 percent of mothers believed that formula is too expensive. About 63 percent reported difficulties in buying it.

Source: China Daily
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