BEIJING: Nestle said on Tuesday its Gerber baby cereal products made and sold in China are safe and it had reported to authorities an association that advised its members, in a post on social media, to stop selling the products.
"All Gerber products produced in China comply with China's food safety standards on complementary foods for infants and babies," the Swiss multinational food and drink conglomerate said in a statement sent to Reuters.
Chinese social media users on the weekend shared screenshots of a Feb. 6 notice issued by an association called the Maternal and Child Industry Committee of China Commercial Economy Society, which said that Gerber products contain toxic metals "to a dangerous degree".
The group cited a recent report by U.S. congressional investigators who said they had found "dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals" in certain baby foods that could cause neurological damage, including Gerber.
A spokesman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was reviewing the report by the U.S. investigators and noted that toxic elements are present in the environment and enter the food supply through soil, water or air.
A representative for Gerber said in response to the U.S. report that the elements in question occurred naturally in the soil and water in which crops are grown and it took multiple steps "to minimize their presence".
Nestle said warnings over food safety in China were only allowed to be published by the State Council and that the association had confused the public and damaged the company's reputation.
A member of staff at the Beijing office of the Maternal and Child Industry Committee of China Commercial Economy Society told Reuters that the Feb. 6 notice that had been widely circulated was misunderstood and meant to be an internal one.
The notice had been deleted from the group's social media page, the member of staff said.
The association said in a notice posted on Tuesday that the authorities had not asked for the removal of Gerber products from shops and they were being sold as normal in China.
(Reporting by Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh; Editing by Robert Birsel)