More than 12,500 people have petitioned US President Barack Obama to help Hong Kong avoid a baby formula shortage, saying infants in the city are facing malnutrition because of Chinese “smugglers.”
Baby formula is popular with Chinese consumers because of concerns about the safety of food processed in China following a series of scandals, notably in 2008 when six babies died from drinking formula tainted with the chemical melamine.
The appeal, labeled “Baby Hunger Outbreak in Hong Kong, International Aid Requested,” was posted on Tuesday on the “We the People” section of the White House’s Web site, which does not require petitioners to be US citizens.
The number of signatures has to reach 100,000 by the end of the month to trigger a response from the Obama administration.
“Local parents in Hong Kong can hardly buy baby formula milk powder in drugstores and supermarkets, as smugglers from mainland China storm to this tiny city to buy milk powder and resell for huge profits in China,” the appeal said.
“We request for international support and assistance as babies in Hong Kong will face malnutrition very soon,” it added.
A city official said this week that Hong Kong was considering designating baby formula a “reserved commodity” to ensure sufficient supply.
It was not immediately clear what the anonymous author of the petition wanted Obama to do, but Internet users in Hong Kong saw the appeal as an attempt to embarrass the government into action.
“The whole world will be laughing at Hong Kong for this,” a mother said on a popular baby forum, the South China Morning Post reported.
Hundreds of Chinese have been stuffing tins of baby milk powder into large bags and boxes near train stations at the border in recent days, ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.
The majority of them are the so-called parallel traders, who travel to Hong Kong by train and dodge import tariffs on their return.
Although the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it maintains a semi-autonomous status with its own laws and immigration controls.
Reports in Australia last month also blamed Chinese customers for a shortage of formula in supermarkets and pharmacies, causing some outlets to ration sales.
Other recent petitions on the White House Web site that have grabbed the headlines include one requesting the government to build a Star Wars-inspired “Death Star” by 2016 to “spur job creation” and strengthen national defense.
More than 34,000 people signed the appeal, but the government rejected it last month with a tongue-in-cheek response, saying: “The administration does not support blowing up planets.”