Keeping Mum
Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Food comfort


I couldn't help but wonder, reading the news out of China this week, about the myriad products we feed to our own babies - products we blithely pick up from supermarket shelves without a second thought and use to feed our families - much like our Chinese counterparts.

I would like to say that I lovingly and carefully prepare all the food I feed to my six month old daughter. I know that many people only give their kids food they've made themselves. Big ups to those people.

But most, like myself, rely on that $1.50 jar of apple, guava and peach desert or rice and carrots to sometimes plug the gap. When the child only eats a couple of mouthfuls at each meal, it almost makes economic sense, and certainly saves a huge amount of time.

And even though I breast feed, I do occasionally have to leave a bottle of formula with a babysitter. Never for a moment do I imagine this food and drink to be anything but the highest quality.

And I'm sure it's not. However, it would be fair to say that if Watties, for example, ever lowered their standards a millimetre, not only my baby daughter but my toddler, my husband and myself would also be potential victims, so much are that company's products a feature of our pantry (and most others, I presume).

Infant formula is a product we need to be able to trust in even more than ground up fruit and veg. Already many people using the product feel they are offering second best thanks to years of breastfeeding promotion; to think they might actually be harming their kids would be unimaginably horrific. Given that a New Zealand company has a part to play in the tragic events in China, can we be assured that our infant formula is nothing but the best?

Let's hope so.

It is true that China has suffered many contaminated food scandals, all too often involving infant formula.

I remember visiting China in 2004 as a journalist and Fonterra was proudly promoting its enriched milk product Analene to local women by giving them free bone density tests in supermarkets. Almost all babies in urban areas drank formula - I don't remember seeing any breast feeding at all.

Fonterra, with its association with clean green New Zealand, was doing good business as a result of the dominance of formula. There were a huge number of news stories - usually reported outside mainland China - featuring babies and children sick and dying from bad locally-made formula and other children's favourites, including jelly.

It will be interesting to see if Fonterra's cut-above reputation in China can weather the storm.

In the meantime, we can hope these incidents of flat-out criminal behaviour are far from our shores, but it's not a reason to ever stop being vigilant. One thing is certain: the perpetrators in China will be given harsh punishments as a result.

Were it New Zealand, where officials never seem to take responsibility for anything, grieving parents would have a much harder time getting answers.

Dita De Boni

Pictured above: Two girls drink milk from Sanlu brand bottles while waiting to be checked for kidney stones at a children's hospital in Shenzhen, in south China's Guangdong province. (AP Photo / Color China Photo)

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