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Criticism of domestic melamine standards "misinterpretations"

(People's Daily Online)

15:23, July 10, 2012

Edited and translated by People's Daily Online

The U.N. food security body known as the Codex Alimentarius Commission recently set a recommended limit of 0.15 milligrams per kilogram for melamine in liquid infant formula, the World Health Organization said on July 4. The new limit caused quite a stir in China as it makes the country’s melamine standards appear too loose. An official from the Chinese Ministry of Health dismissed media criticism as “misinterpretations” of the new limit and domestic standards.


Domestic standards criticized as too loose

A maximum limit of 0.15 milligrams per kilogram for melamine in liquid infant milk will help governments better protect consumers’ interests, rights, and health, the commission said.

Two years ago, the commission set the maximum limit of melamine at 1 milligram per kilogram for milk used to produce infant milk powder, and at 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of other food products.

The commission, jointly established by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization in 1963, coordinates food standards work internationally, and sets international food safety and quality standards.

After the 2008 Chinese milk scandal, five Chinese governmental agencies such as the ministries of health and agriculture jointly set the maximum limit of melamine at 1 milligram per kilogram of infant formula, and at 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of other food products. Food products exceeding the legal limits for melamine are prohibited for sale.

The gap between China’s 2.5 micrograms and 1 microgram limits and the U.N. body’s 0.15 microgram limit has caused quite a stir in the country. Certain media outlets said it highlighted the quality gap between domestic and foreign infant formula. It is hard to image the real gap in the amount of melamine, given the strikingly different standards, they said.

Some people even linked the soaring prices of foreign milk powder and unpopularity of domestic milk powder in recent years to the Chinese standard, saying that the standard is a pain in the hearts of consumers. Due to the loophole in the testing standard, the consumers suffered a lot in the food safety incident, which appeals to the related departments to truly attach importance to domestic dairy market, not repeating the tragedy of melamine and being led by the nose by the foreign milk powder.

Official response: the two standards are consistent after conversion

Regarding the statement of the media that "Chinese standard is looser than the international standard," the dairy industry expert Wang Dingmian said that the unit is very important in the food comparison and only the materials of the same kind can be compared with each other. The figures in the Chinese standard that "the limited value of melamine in the infant formula is 1 mg per kilogram and that of other food is 2.5 mg per kilogram" are pointed to the "food" while the figure in the new international standard that "the melamine content in one kilogram liquid milk special for infants cannot more than 0.15 mg" is pointed to the "liquid milk." Therefore, people cannot carry out simple calculations to conclude a so-called "loose multiple."

In this regard, our reporter had an interview with the official in charge of the department of food security standard under the Ministry of Health of China. The official clearly pointed out that in the previous provisions in China, the "food" specially refers to the "powdery" food, namely milk powder. The milk powder belongs to solidity while the milk belongs to liquidity, and there is a conversion of 1-to-8 between them. The liquid milk of 0.15 mg is concentrated and multiplied by 8, which is equal to 1.2 mg. According to the international standard of rounding up, the figure turns into 1 mg. "The current Chinese standard is consistent with the international standard after conversion," the official said. Therefore, the media misread the two standards. The official also said that the relevant standards of the CAC are recommended, not mandatory.

Source:Beijing Times


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