Walking up and down the baby food aisle at a busy supermarket, Cui Guizhong carefully studies what to feed his three-month-old granddaughter.
He printed off a list of 22 milk powder companies whose products contained the banned chemical melamine.
"My granddaughter drank Sanlu powdered milk first but then we changed to Yashili after the tainted milk scandal broke," he said. "Just a day later, Yashili was also contaminated. I really don't know what to buy."
Putting on glasses, the 62-year-old read through every brand of powdered milk on the shelf. He even discussed his options with the supermarket assistants and wrote down notes.
Beside Cui, a young couple carrying their baby boy in their arms, was also checking out formulas. Their three-month-old son is fed with powdered milk made by Yili, a leading domestic dairy brand.
"The milk powder we bought was not in the list of adulterated products, but we were not quite sure whether it was safe or not as one of Yili's products was on the list," said the father Deng Shangyun. "We haven't made up our mind to change to another brand as our son is used to this one and might not like something different."
The national dairy market has been hit hard by the scandal.
"We removed all tainted milk once we read the news on Tuesday night," said Wang Pingchuan, the general office director of Baolongcang supermarket, a leading retailer in Hebei's provincial capital Shijiazhuang.
Many parents are now turning to foreign brands.
High-end Renmin Department Store reported foreign milk powder sales have doubled.
The numbers are not the same at lower cost supermarkets, said Wang. The price of foreign baby formula is holding back many middle and low-income families.
A 900-g barrel of Nestle baby formula costs about 178 yuan (26 U.S. dollars). A 400-g bag of Sanlu sold for about 40 yuan. The price dropped to 27 yuan if customers bought it in a 12-bag box.
For Wang Lifang, Sanlu was a credible brand she could afford. Her family earns about 1,100 yuan (161 dollars) per year as farmers.
"Sanlu was already the best I could afford for my daughter," she said.
Now, her two-month-old is at a provincial hospital having her kidneys examined.
"After she started getting sick, I bought fresh milk from a neighbor for her. Here, I don't know what to do."
Parents are left trying many things to get their babies fed. Some use fresh milk, soy milk or even rice soup. Others stopped feeding any products with milk to their children.
"We don't know what is inside the milk powder or milk. Even imported products may not be safe," said Li, a Shijiazhuang citizen.
Others continued feeding their children with what they know.
"The kid needs powdered milk. I'm going to wait for the government to put the market in order and then decide what to feed my son," said Jiang Aihua. "I believe it will not take a very longtime. The government will put it on the right track."
A nationwide inspection found 87 safe milk producers. Among them were several medium and small-sized dairy companies in Hebei. The provincial government is planning to send inspectors into the firms to urge them to produce more milk powder which caters to poorer customers.
"We already found the source of tainted milk. The loophole has been exposed. Once we tighten the supervision, there will be safe domestic powdered milk," said Zhong, a provincial commercial department official.
(Xinhua News Agency September 19, 2008)