- Once again advertisements relating to the unsubstantiated benefits of A2 infant formula have been the target of Chinese regulators. The latest incident highlights SAMR’s clamp down on promotional activities and advertisement of special foods and other health related consumables.
On Jan. 21, 2019, former Shanghai Administration for Industry & Commerce (now SAMR) publicized details of 12 illegal advertisements, notably illegal promotion of A2 infant formula was once again the subject of a public announcement by Chinese authorities. Gome Ecommerce Company were fined 360,000 RMB for 2 illegal adverts of A2 infant formula and additional adverts related to financial services.
Ads using comparative protein claims and breast milk mimetic claims are banned
According to the circular, the following expressions cannot be used to advertise A2 infant formula:
- “妈妈的母乳也是全A2蛋白”(human breast milk proteins are also A2)
- “妈妈般亲和只因好蛋白”(the presence of A2 proteins makes the product more similar to human breast milk)
GOME took all the A2 infant formula products off the platform after the penalty was issued and the products are still not available in the store currently.
Doubts over A2 ads are not new
On Jul. 20, 2018, SAMR imposed a penalty of 100,000 RMB on the A2 Milk Trade (Shanghai) Company  because it invited an actress and her son (under the age of 10) to endorse their milk powder products in its ads.
Many industry insiders have also pointed out that the comparative claims made by A2 such as “A1 proteins in ordinary milk may cause GI upset in children, A2 proteins are associated with a lower incidence of these effects,” are illegal and violate advertisement requirements by implying the inferiority of other products without sufficient scientific evidence.
According to Chinese regulators these statements are not substantiated by strong enough clinical evidence and are not permitted under Chinese regulations. The A2 Milk Company financed several research projects to prove that the A1 protein in ordinary milk is responsible for adverse gastrointestinal symptoms, but according to experts “more proof will be needed before this conclusion can be drawn”.
Amongst China’s ecommerce players, GOME is the only high profile casualty that has been fined for use of illegal A2 ads in China’s latest clamp down on illegal advertisements. With just a cursory browse of China’s ecommerce platforms I was able to find numerous other illegal advertisements. On Tmall.com I found advertisements very similar to the ones which have been deemed as illegal by SAMR. Relevant ads on A2 official website and JD.com seem to comply with advertisement regulations.