Gov't efforts help restore confidence in Chinese dairy products: Expert

08:06, March 03, 2011      

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Recent reassurances by authorities about the safety of Chinese-made dairy products would be helpful for customers to restore confidence, expert said.

Wang Li, a United Nation's chief economist stationed in China, who was previously an economist with the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), made the remarks Wednesday.

Judging from the testing data on vitamins, mineral substances and other nutrients, no clear differences had been found between Chinese-made milk powder and imported products, or between home brands and foreign brands, said Liu Yanqin, deputy director of the Food Center of the National Food Quality Supervision and Inspection Center on Tuesday.

Quality authorities also said no leather hydrolyzed protein or other prohibited materials had been detected in their tests on milk sold on the Chinese market last year.

Li Yang, an assistant shop manager of Lijia Baby, a major seller of baby-rearing products in China, said that although about 70 percent of their milk product customers choose to buy foreign brands, more and more Chinese mothers is willing to give homemade milk a shot given prices advantages and recent government efforts in cracking down on inferior dairy.

Ever since Tuesday, China's State Administration for Industry & Commerce has ruled dairy, different from other food products, must be examined solely before a potential operator is verified to enter into a business, said Bai Jinghua, deputy director of the administration's Regulation Department for Market Circulation of Food.

The move came after General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), China's quality watchdog, said in Jan. that dairy firms must obtain new production licenses this year or be closed.

AQSIQ is reexamining the production qualification of dairy factories nationwide. As of Feb. 23, over 70 enterprises had passed the examination, while those who fail to pass will be obliged to exit the infant dairy market.

These, however, are only the tip of the iceberg of the country's efforts to improve dairy quality.

AQSIQ said last month that it had maintained close attention to the quality of dairy products and increased food safety checks following the melamine-tainted baby formula scandal in 2008, which lead to the resign of Li Changjiang, the then AQSIQ head.

Chinese quality watchdog also canceled all kinds of national inspection exemptions previously given to food producers in the wake of the scandal.

What's more, AQSIQ had put melamine and leather hydrolyzed protein on the list of banned additives and must-checks in fresh milk since 2009 and had punished a company in Zhejiang Province in March 2009 according to law after it found the company had added leather hydrolyzed protein to its dairy products.

However, Wang noted that despite these painstaking government efforts, the full recovery of confidence towards China's dairy products takes time.

Imported products have occupied half of the Chinese market share of dairy products, up 10 percentage points over 2008 when the melamine scandal happened, said Ma Ying, deputy director of the Dairy Industry Management Office of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Nearly half of China's infant milk powder supply, which totaled 560,000 tonnes last year, were taken up by foreign brands.

Experts warned Chinese customers to guard against blind faith towards imported dairy given AQSIQ rejected over 450 tonnes of milk imports to foreign producers based upon safety concerns from March to July last year.

Among them, Ausnutria failed to meet Chinese quality authorities' requirements on zinc and phosphorus contents last year while, in 2009, two of Mead Johnson Nutrition products for infants did not have enough protein, as required.

Additionally, AQSIQ found 150 tonnes of milk powder imported from Singapore was infected with Enterobacter sakazakii last June and was rejected.

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