Hong Kong: 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 due to mainland Chinese “smugglers”.

Formula is popular with mainlanders 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 milk tainted with the chemical melamine.

The appeal, labelled “Baby Hunger Outbreak in Hong Kong, International Aid Requested”, was posted on Tuesday on the “We the People” section of the White House website, which does not require petitioners to be US citizens.

The number of signatures has to reach 100,000 by the end of the month in order 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.