Quality of raw milk 'among the worst'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2011, 12:00am


The president of a major mainland dairy products manufacturer has attacked China's raw milk standards, saying they are among the lowest in the world.

'Our raw milk standards are almost the world's lowest,' Bright Dairy president Guo Benheng told a forum on Sunday. The mainland's standard for the protein content of raw milk is much lower than in the United States and European Union and it also tolerates higher levels of bacteria.

'International standards for the dairy industry also require checks for antibiotics and nitrites in raw milk, but China does not even make such requirements,' Guo said. 'Can we make a very high-end product with a relatively lower standard? In fact we cannot. What is produced from garbage is garbage.'

China's milk processing technologies were among the world's best, Guo said, but the problem lies in the low quality of raw milk. He said the priority should now be improving its quality.

Guo's comments have given fresh impetus to the controversy, first raised by Guangzhou dairy industry official Wang Dingmian , who described China's dairy standards as the loosest in the world when they came into effect in June last year. Widespread media coverage of similar remarks by Wang at a dairy industry forum three weeks ago rekindled the debate.

The recent controversy over raw milk standards has further eroded consumers' already low confidence in the mainland's dairy industry, after 22 dairy companies, including some major producers, were involved in the fatal melamine-tainted milk scandal three years ago.

In January, authorities ordered dairy product manufacturers to obtain new production certificates this year, and said those unable to guarantee product quality would be shut down. By the end of March, only 643 dairy firms out of a total of 1,176 companies had passed inspection.

The new national safety standard for dairy products lowered the minimum protein level required for raw milk from 2.95 per cent to 2.8 per cent. The old standard had been in place since 1986 but most of the milk produced in some provinces failed to make the grade.

The new standard also set the maximum limit for bacteria in raw milk at two million cells per millilitre. In comparison, Western nations' dairy standards call for a bacterial count of roughly 100,000 per millilitre of raw milk, and a protein content of roughly three grams per 100 grams of raw milk.

In response, the Ministry of Health said in a statement that the threshold protein count was lowered because surveys had found that the protein level of raw milk mainly stayed in the neighbourhood of 2.8 and 3.2 per cent, with an average of 2.95. It also defended the new bacteria standard, saying it was more strict because there was now a flat count of two million per millilitre, less than the previous top limit of four million per millilitre.

But Wang told the Beijing Times that the standards were lowered because of pressure from dairy giants seeking to reap larger profits by cutting costs.

Nadamude, secretary general of the Dairy Association of Inner Mongolia, told the People's Daily that 70 per cent of China's dairy farmers would be forced to throw out their milk or even sell some of their cows if stricter standards are imposed. Inner Mongolia is home to several large dairy companies, including Yili and Mengniu.

'It is more important for people to have milk than to have high quality milk,' he said.

Nadamude attributed the lower standards to the fact that most mainland dairy farms are small. Less than 30 per cent of the country's farmers have a herd of more than 100 cows.

But Wang said dairy farmers would not benefit from the lower standards because lower quality raw milk would sell for less.

He said the best way to deal with the problem would be to upgrade the industry and give cows quality feed, which would raise protein levels in raw milk and fetch higher prices.