About 45 per cent of Chinese dairies shut down following melamine scandals
Nearly half of China's 1,176 dairies are being shut down after failing to obtain new licences, China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) announced. Only 643 companies have been able to obtain new licences; another 107 were told to stop production and improve quality controls before they could apply again. The other 426 have had their licence simply revoked. Of the 145 companies producing mild powder for babies, 114 had their licences renewed.
The Chinese government ordered new controls in September to restore consumer confidence in the country’s dairy industry, rocked since September 2008 by a series of scandals involving melamine-tainted baby formula made by some of the country’s largest dairy producer. Milk products with added melamine appear to be richer in proteins, but are in fact very toxic and can cause kidney problems. At least six infants have died as a result of tainted baby formula and another 300,000 became seriously ill.
Because of the various cases, food safety practices have come under attack. Since the start of the problem, incidents of this kind have continued, albeit on a smaller scale (see “China’s foremost dairy company accused of “recycling” melamine-tainted milk,” in AsiaNews, 2 September 2010; “Food safety hard to guarantee in China,” in AsiaNews, 13 July 2010; and “38 tonnes of melamine milk seized (again),” in AsiaNews, 9 July 2010).
At the same time though, children affected by toxic substances have not been adequately compensated and officials responsible for the problem have not been punished.
Controls currently underway have shown the gravity of the situation, given the high number of companies that have failed to meet the standards after years of controls.
Inspections have shown how big dairies subcontract part of the production to smaller firms that try to recycle expired powdered milk or cannot meet the same quality standards.
Now consumers want the government to release the names of the delinquent companies.
However, the new rules appear to favour big dairies. In Hebei, many of the 35 companies that saw their licence renewed are subsidiaries of large national brands like Yili, Mengniu and Sanyuan.
Many observers believe that new controls are designed to squeeze out the smaller dairies in favour of the big ones.
Hebei, a province with a strong dairy sector, was the home of Sanlu, the main culprit in the 2008 scandal.
Food safety is a widespread problem in China. In March, reports about pigs fed with illegal and toxic supplements raised additional concerns.