July 6, 2012

China's melamine limit on milk weaker than UN standards


China's standard for legalised melamine levels in milk products is 16 times higher as compared to the latest standards adopted by the United Nations.

The UN's food security body - the Codex Alimentarius Commission - amended its dairy products standard recently to cap the melamine limit at 0.15 milligrams per kilogramme.

The maximum for infant formula in China, however, is one milligram per kilogramme, and 2.5 milligrams per kilogramme for other milk products.

China bans adding melamine to milk products, but allows a certain amount from packaging and the environment, according to a joint announcement by five ministries, including the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, last year.

In 2008, six Chinese babies died from drinking formula and milk products containing the chemical and some 300,000 became sick. The credibility of China's dairy industry was severely damaged.

Melamine was being added to watered-down milk to raise protein levels.

Cao Mingshi, deputy secretary general of the Shanghai Dairy Association, said the current Chinese standard for melamine was safe.

"There is a gap between the two standards, but different situations should be taken into consideration and the standard China adopted is safe," he said.

Li Shuguang, a professor with the School of the Public Health at Fudan University, said he expected a new level to be introduced, but it would take at least a year as investigation and expert discussion would be involved and conditions in some remote areas needed to be considered.

"China will probably lower the limit to 0.3 or 0.5 milligrams per kilogramme after one or two years," he said.

Li Yin, a mother in her 30s, said she only bought milk powder from New Zealand because of the 2008 scandal. "I avoid domestic brands because I think overseas ones are safer," she said.

China is implementing dairy standards that are among the lowest in the world, some experts have claimed.

"International standards for the dairy industry require checks of antibiotics and nitrites in raw milk, but China does not even make such requirements," Guo Benheng, president of Bright Dairy & Food Co Ltd, told Xinhua news agency.

China's milk processing technologies are among the world's best, but the problem lies in the low standard of the raw milk, Guo said.

The country's raw milk standards for protein content and bacteria are also lower than those of Western countries.

Video >

Follow Us