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Study group for introducing liquid baby formula in Japan to propose regulatory reform

Eri Suenaga is seen holding liquid baby formula imported from overseas. (Mainichi)

A study group that advocates the domestic distribution of liquid baby formula in Japan, which is currently restricted, is set for launch on Dec. 8 after a mother in Yokohama started an online campaign to call for regulatory reform on infants' food.

    Liquid baby formula is bottled under antiseptic conditions and can be fed to babies without adding anything to it. It can be carried while maintaining good hygienic quality and be stored for a long period of time. Liquid baby formula has proven useful at times of disasters when it is difficult to secure hot water for powder formula and the means to disinfect bottles. In the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, liquid formula was delivered to Japan as relief supplies from across the world.

    In Japan, however, only powder formula is approved for marketing under a ministerial ordinance of the Food Sanitation Act and liquid baby formula cannot be manufactured or distributed. While individuals are free to purchase liquid formula from overseas, shipping fees can be high.

    Eri Suenaga, a 36-year-old mother in Yokohama, will serve as the head of the study group. When she was expecting her first child, Suenaga did research on delivery and child-rearing and learned about the liquid formula. She then began collecting signatures for regulatory reform via http://www.change.org/p/babyformulaforjapan in November last year. The page has already collected over 12,000 signatures of support, and the group plans to work out a proposal and submit it to the Council for Regulatory Reform of the Cabinet Office along with the online signatures.

    She received messages supporting her movement such as, "I used to use liquid formula when I lived in the U.S. It was helpful when I was sick or busy" and "I could not breastfeed after the disaster due to stress, so I was glad I had something as a breast-milk substitute."

    Suenaga visited baby formula manufacturers with signatures she had collected to ask for liquid formula production and distribution, and also went to related organizations including the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and then posted her activities on the Internet. She was offered help from individuals and organizations that took an interest in her action, and it was decided to launch a study group.

    Kunihiko Sawada, 29, of Kobe found liquid formula useful when he imported the product for his child. Sawada, who works at the Kobe Municipal Fire Department and is in charge of disaster prevention, is joining the study group hoping to store liquid formula products at people's homes and public buildings in case of a disaster. The group will start out with six members, including those from a food research company of a trade corporation, a septic packaging supplier and dispensing pharmacy chain.

    The group will face many hurdles such as safety checks by the Cabinet Office Food Safety Commission before liquid formula is approved for domestic distribution, but Suenaga is determined to push for the reform, saying, "Many people in Japan don't even know what liquid formula is. I hope people get to know about the item first, and we'll take the first step by raising voices from the consumer side."

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