The petition, Baby Hunger Outbreak in Hong Kong, International Aid Requested, was posted on the White House website on 29 January 2013. As of 1pm Central European Time (CET) today, the petition had been signed 13,699 times.
The petition has until 28 February 2013 to reach the 100,000 mark – at which point it will receive a response from the White House.
Chinese traders have been blamed for the shortage. According to reports from the region, people from the Chinese mainland have been buying infant formula in large quantities in Hong Kong before smuggling it back on to the mainland to sell at inflated prices.
Hong Kong infant formula is popular among Chinese consumers due to continued concerns about the safety of domestically-manufactured milk powder.
In 2008, six children died and nearly 300,000 people across China were sickened after consuming milk powder tainted with melamine. The country’s dairy industry has since suffered as a result of similar safety scandals.
Hong Kong babies facing “malnutrition”
The petition claims that babies in Hong Kong face malnutrition “very soon” if something is not done to alleviate the current shortage.
“Local parents in Hong Kong can hardly buy baby formula milk powder in drugstores and supermarkets, as smugglers from mainland China storm to this tony city to buy milk powder and resell for huge profits in China. Many retailers stockpiled milk powder and are reluctant to sell to local parents as the shops can sell their stocks in big cartons to mainland smugglers for huge profits,” said the petition.
“Countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand exercise rationed sale to tourist buyers from China for milk powder but the Hong Kong government simply frame the situation as a matter of free trade and refuse to exercise law which is already there to stop cross-border smuggling.”
“We request international support and assistance as babies in Hong Kong will face malnutrition very soon,” it added.
The petition is thought to have been an attempt to embarrass the special administrative region (SAR) government.
Infant formula ‘reserved commodity’ status
According to reports from Hong Kong, the government is considering whether to protect infant formula as a ‘reserved commodity’.
Speaking this week, the Hong Kong Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man revealed that the government was examining the feasibility of adding infant formula to the Reserved Commodities Ordinance - which controls imports and exports to ensure a stable supply for Hong Kong residents.
Rice – a staple in the Hong Kong – is currently the only ‘reserved commodity’ under the region’s Reserved Commodities Ordinance.