July 5, 2011


China's raw milk standard lags behind despite clean-up efforts


China has moved to clean up its raw milk industry to ensure safety at the source of the industrial chain, but some experts say the nation is implementing a very low standard.


Gu Jicheng, secretary-general of the Dairy Association of China, said agricultural departments have eliminated a total of 6,890 disqualified raw milk stations during a three-year campaign that began in 2008.


In the wake of the campaign, a total of 13,503 raw milk stations and 7,980 raw milk transportation vehicles throughout the country are subject to the monitoring of local authorities, Gu said.


"All the stations are now either run by dairy companies, cow farms, or cooperatives established by dairy farmers," said Gu, who cited the rise of machinery-milking to 87% from 51% nearly three years ago as an example of improved hygiene standards.


Despite that, Guo Benheng, president of Bright Dairy & Food, said that China's raw milk standard was nearly the world's lowest.


The country's raw milk standards of protein content and colony-forming unit (CFU) is much lower than those from the US and the EU, said Wang Dingmian, an industrial expert.


"International standards for the dairy industry also require checks of antibiotics and nitrites in raw milk, but China does not even make such requirements," Guo said.


The credibility of China's dairy industry was severely damaged in 2008 when milk laced with melamine, a chemical added to milk products to make the protein content seem richer, sickened nearly 300,000 children and killed at least six.


China's milk processing technologies are among the world's best, but the problem lies in the low standard of the raw milk, said Guo Benheng, adding that the priority now should be focused on the improvement of raw milk quality.


Since 2009, agricultural departments have paid great attention to the safety and supervision of raw milk, and strictly cracked down upon illegally adding substances such as melamine to raw milk.


Additionally, the nation's top quality regulator in January ordered that dairy product makers must obtain new production certificates this year, and those with weak quality guarantees will be shut down.


By the end of March, only 643 dairy firms among a total of 1,176 companies had passed the examinations, said Ren Fazheng, a professor with the China Agricultural University.


Ren said this overhaul promoted restructuring in the dairy industry and was beneficial to the improvement of quality and safety of the country's dairy products, as both dairy output and consumption surged last year.


According to figures provided by Ren, dairy output reached 21.59 million tonnes last year, up 48% compared to 2006; meanwhile, per capita spending on dairy products by residents in 36 large and medium-sized cities reached RMB277 (US$43), up 40% compared to 2006.

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