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HINESE students are being recruited to buy up hundreds of tins of infant formula in Australia and ship it to be sold on the black market in China for more than twice the price. News Ltd revealed yesterday health scares over tainted infant formula in China are seeing local supermarket shelves across the country stripped of the most popular selling brands.|
It now appears an organised black market network is threatening the supply of baby food for Australian families, some of whom need specific types for health reasons.
Owner of milk powder group Simon Hansford said the situation was only going to get worse.
''Groups of companies are coming down (from China) and doing raids on supermarkets (to buy name brands) and the problem they (authorities) have got is there is no tax when they ship (back to China),'' Mr Hansford said.
The Victorian businessman started up Milk Powder Solutions after baby formula contamination in China saw six babies die in 2008 and 300,000 fall ill.
News Limited yesterday found an Asian website www.taobao.com that is selling Australian formula for $54 a can, more than twice the $24 price in major supermarkets.
And a Canberra resident said he had been buying baby formula for a friend of his wife who lived in Asia.
The formula was sent in small packets so Chinese customs did not confiscate it or impose a duty worth hundreds of yuan, he said.
The Canberra man said supermarket managers had told him they had noticed Chinese students coming in and clearing the shelves and placing orders for huge amounts of formula.
Mr Hansford said he also believed Australia Post had been asked by its Chinese equivalent to put a halt to customers posting tins of in-demand formula to Chinese addresses.
''We sat down with China Post to see how it works and they wanted to see how they can cash in on it too but the China Government is now saying they can't send it to anyone,'' he said.
''They also send it through grey areas such as Hong Kong.''
Brunswick mother Samantha Kinmond says on occasions she has been left with just a few days formula for her 10-month old daughter, Jessica, because it has been so hard to find.
''It has been an extremely stressful situation,'' she said.
Jessica suffers from soy and dairy intolerance and needs a special Karicare goats milk formula which is even harder to obtain because New Zealand, where the formula is produced, places restrictions on goat milk production.
''When we see it, we have to buy it,'' Mrs Kinmond said.
''I've had a friend in Queensland send it down and my mother who lives in country Victoria.''
She says she has witnessed people bulk buying every can of formula on the supermarket shelves.
''They're buying everything they can get their hands on, any brand of formula,''she says.
Australia Post declined to comment other than to say ''it is the customer's responsibility to ensure the contents of the items they are sending comply with the relevant country's requirements.''
Baby formula is not a restricted or prohibited item under the Customs Act and Customs and Border Protection says it does not control its import or export.
Chinese authorities have tightened import legislation even further on formula since a scare in September.
Michael Clifton, Austrade Senior Trade Commissioner in Shanghai, said there was pressure on local milk and powder suppliers to produce enough to cater for both our domestic market and the 20 per cent of 18 million babies born in China each year who are fed infant formula.
He said Chinese authorities were often perplexed why there were not more Australian branded products available for a growing market.
''If you or I were going off to Switzerland, mum and dad and the kids would like a box of chocolates when you get back, Chinese tourists are going to Australia and there are increasingly more of them, their expectation is that when you return from your holiday from Australian or New Zealand, you pack in your suitcase a couple of cans of infant formula for family and friends.
''It's not just an occasional Chinese tourist spotting a good buy in the Woolies supermarket. There is a very strong trend in China for tourists to be accessing clean, green, safe food and particularly infant formula because of the importance of children in the Chinese culture. They only have one of them and they are treasured assets.''
Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said yesterday breastfeeding babies for as long as possible was the best option.
''Where children do need formula it is important obviously that they have the stocks available to them and we've only just seen those reports so of course we'll investigate whether there is an issue for the Government there,'' she said.