China's health ministry defends new dairy legislation, says dairy industry has not had undue influence on drafting process despite critics' claims that standards were lowered to benefit producers
December 5, 2011
– China's Ministry of Health moved on Thursday to counter accusations that the dairy industry had undue influence in the drafting of new minimum standards for milk production.
Zhang Xudong, a ministry official in charge of food safety, was quoted by the People's Daily as saying the drafting panel of the latest national dairy legislation consists of 70 members, including people from the government, academia and the dairy industry. He denied the process was in any way "kidnapped" by dairy producers.
Zhang said it was right that dairy producers, crucial to the safety of their produce, should be represented in the drafting committee.
However, the initial and final drafts were all put forward by the entire panel after thorough discussions, Zhang said.
China's current dairy safety standards have stirred complaints since taking effect in June, critics arguing they are the weakest in the world and were created to accommodate calls from major dairy producers for leniency.
The maximum limit for bacteria in raw milk, or the aerobic plate count, is currently set at 2 million cells per milliliter in China, four times higher than the amount allowed under previous regulations. And the protein content requirement was also lowered from 2.95 to 2.8 grams.
Wang Dingmian, president of the Guangzhou Dairy Association, said this represents a retreat to standards that haven't been used in 25 years and that the standards are the weakest of their kind in the world.
He believes they were lowered because of pressure from dairy producers seeking to reap larger profits by cutting costs.
The latest round of contention was stirred by recent reports in several newspapers, including the People's Daily and Beijing Times.
They cited experts demanding greater transparency in the drafting process.
China's dairy industry suffered a heavy blow after a scandal in 2008 in which baby formula was found to be tainted with melamine, an industrial compound used to create plastic and resin. The tainted formula led to the deaths of six infants and sickened 300,000 children across the country.