New inspections to ensure safety of dairy products

08:52, February 18, 2011      

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Domestic fresh dairy products will be tested this year to see if they contain leather-hydrolyzed protein and melamine, two banned additives sometimes used to make products appear to have a higher protein content, the Ministry of Agriculture said.

The move is seen as another effort by the government to improve the quality of domestic dairy products following a 2008 scandal involving baby milk formula tainted with melamine.

According to a notice posted on the agriculture ministry's website on Feb 12, the tests will be conducted on 6,450 sample batches of fresh dairy products stemming from 30 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, as well as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.

The notice states the samples will be collected randomly from local wholesalers and delivery vehicles and put through tests designed to detect trace amounts of melamine. The industrial chemical was found in watered-down raw milk and implicated in the deaths of six infants and the illnesses of 300,000 more in a 2008 scandal.

Melamine is believed to have been used as an additive because it produces higher readings in procedures used to gauge the protein content of food.

Meanwhile, 30 percent of the samples will be tested for leather-hydrolyzed protein, a substance that is extracted from leather scraps and is also illegally added to dairy products to boost protein content.

The substance contains toxic chemicals such as potassium dichromate and sodium dichromate, used to soften leather. Those who ingest it are at risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease whose chief symptom is brittle bones. Long-term exposure to the chemicals can lead to cancer and death among children, experts said.

In March 2009, Chenyuan Dairy Company, a company based in Jinhua of East China's Zhejiang province, was shut down after the substance was found in its products.

An unidentified official at the agriculture ministry was quoted by the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald as saying on Tuesday that since 2009 both melamine and leather-hydrolyzed protein have been listed as substances that must be looked for in tests meant to gauge the quality of domestic fresh dairy products.

The ministry said on its website on Thursday that it tested 7,406 sample batches of fresh dairy products last year, and did not find illegal use of leather-hydrolyzed protein or melamine in the samples.

This year, the agriculture ministry aims to have all wholesalers of raw milk and delivery vehicles tested at least once.

Furthermore, the plan is being published for the first time this year and is "more detailed" and has "stricter requirements", he said.

Chen Yu, Ministry of Agriculture dairy analyst, told China Daily on Thursday that some dairy farmers in the country, who may have lacked the technical support needed to properly run a dairy farm, relied on illegal additives to boost both protein readings and their profits.

"The current strengthening of quality supervision is a good step to protect consumers," he said. "But it will be a long-term task to adopt better policies and pay to encourage dairy farmers to improve their products' quality."

Since the 2008 melamine scandal, sales of foreign dairy products have surged in China. Many mainland consumers, meanwhile, have gone shopping for infant formula in Hong Kong and Macao.

During the Spring Festival this year, suppliers in both special administrative regions blamed a shortage of imported infant milk powder on mainland consumers' panic purchasing. The short supply has left local babies with little to feed on, media reports said.

On Tuesday, the Macao Pharmacies Association pledged to the Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) government to limit the public to fewer purchases of milk powder in the hope of stretching the supply further.

The Hong Kong SAR government said it will not impose a departure tax on milk powder, although some pharmacies there have set rules to prevent customers from purchasing more than three cans of baby formula at a time.

By Jin Zhu, China Daily
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