February 21, 2011


China to screen melamine and leather protein in milk


The Ministry of Agriculture said authorities will carry out 6,450 random checks on fresh milk this year, all of which will test for melamine while 30% will look for hydrolysed leather protein.


The measure underscored official concerns that dairy producers may still be trying to use illegal and dangerous methods to boost the protein content of their milk.


Both additives - melamine and hydrolysed leather protein - would make dairy products made with watered-down milk appear to have normal amounts of protein.


In March 2009, the Chenyuan Dairy Company in central China's Zhejiang province was shut down by authorities after leather protein was found in its products, sources said.


"When the melamine issue broke and everybody started being able to detect melamine in milk, unscrupulous producers tried to find an alternative way, something that supplemented the protein in milk," a food testing executive said.   "So what they used, very cleverly, was the hydrolyzate of bovine leather, and because it's actually protein and derived from a cow, it's almost impossible to detect as an additive," he added.


To find out if the substance has been added to dairy, authorities look for telltale leather-curing residues. The protein extracted from cow leather is not known to be dangerous to human health, but the curing chemicals are, the officer said.


The chemicals could be fatal for children in high does and put adults at risk for osteoporosis.


The Ministry of Agriculture said Thursday (Feb 17) that spot checks on 7,406 batches of fresh milk last year were all free of melamine and signs of leather protein.


But powdered, rather than fresh milk, has been the main source of melamine contamination. Last year China seized 2,132 tonnes of melamine-tainted milk powder that was manufactured in 2008 or earlier.


China ordered all contaminated dairy, including infant formula, yogurt and other products, burned or buried, but the government did not carry out the destruction itself. Some people apparently stockpiled the tainted products.


Leather protein was also more likely to show up in milk powder and other processed dairy than in raw milk, experts said, adding that 6,450 tests in one year did not seem sufficient for a country China's size.

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