Adding chemicals to milk common: insiders
Josephine Ma in Beijing
Melamine is just one of the many chemicals that agents add to raw milk to pass quality tests, industry insiders say.
The most common additives to raw milk were preservatives and hydrogen peroxide because milk collectors wanted to keep it from turning bad during delivery, they said.
'It is so common,' one insider, who declined to be named, said yesterday. 'It becomes the unspoken rule in the industry.'
According to one source, chemicals are often added by milk collectors or agents who get it from farms and then sell it to producers.
'It is hard for dairy farmers to add chemicals to the raw milk as a certain level of technology is required,' he said. 'The procurement people of the dairy manufacturers are all aware of the problem, but they still take in the tainted raw milk. It is either because of the shortage of supply or because they are connected to the agents and accepted bribes.
'It is not limited to baby formula; all milk products are the same. Babies show symptoms quickly because they only drink milk and they are small.'
Another source said there was such a big market for milk adulteration that some chemical companies derived all their revenue from selling the necessary ingredients to the milk collectors.
'For example, when the fat content is below standard, they have to add vegetable oil, but you have to emulsify the oil first. And of course they won't add cooking oil. They normally add industrial-use oil.'
Industry sources said chemicals were added to give a false appearance of protein, fat and lactose levels. Protein powder was often added to increase the protein level; industrial-use vegetable oil to boost fat level; and whey powder to boost lactose level.
A mainland journalist said he knew about the use of melamine and other additives a few years ago, but could not report the story because of pressure from giant dairy firms.
'In extreme cases, you can produce milk entirely from test tubes,' he said. 'You don't even need cows.'
One source said the practices had become increasingly commonplace since late last year when international milk prices soared and there was a shortage of milk domestically as many farmers killed their cows after a bad year in 2006.
'The most common scenario is when they mix fake milk with real milk and they have to add these additives so that milk can pass the nutrition tests during procurement,' the source said.
'But even when all the milk is real, additives may still be added because milk in China is of such poor quality and often cannot meet the nutrition standard.'
Whether the substandard milk could pass tests during procurement depended on the supply in that period.
'When the milk supply is tight, they can pass the tests easily,' a source said. 'But sometimes manufacturers do destroy diluted or fake milk.'
They said milk agents were often people with powerful local connections.
But equally worrying is the widespread use of preservatives and hydrogen peroxide because these chemicals destroyed protein and indirectly harmed people's bodies.
The use of preservatives was so commonplace among dairy farmers that many outsiders knew about it.
Lawyer Guan Anping said his Mongolian friends repeatedly told him about this when he visited Inner Mongolia.
'I am a Manchu and I often go to Inner Mongolia to visit my Mongolian and Manchu friends,' he said. 'Dairy farmers carry milk to the collectors and they have to add alkaline and hydrogen peroxide so that milk won't turn sour when it reaches the collectors.'
A dairy industry source added: 'Milk is not produced properly and the bacterial counts are exceptionally high. In foreign countries, such milk would be thrown away.'