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Nitrite milk scandal exposes gaps in Chinese food safety reforms

By Guy Montague-Jones , 15-Apr-2011

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Three deaths from nitrite tainted milk in China show that the country still has some way to go to clean up its dairy industry. One of the authors of a new study1 on the 2008 China melamine milk scandal explains what has gone wrong and what reforms are needed.

Researcher Liana Giorgi explained that from 2000 the Chinese dairy industry underwent rapid and unregulated development. When the melamine contamination scandal hit in 2008 Giorgi said: “Melamine was not the problem, it was the symptom.”

Since then China has introduced a new legal framework on food safety and reformed the institutions involved in monitoring.

But Giorgi said the reforms do not go far enough. She said the focus is now on testing the end product and needs, instead, to be on the development of quality assurance systems. She said many dairies have not even been using the HACCP system.

Another major problem is that the authorities and even dairy processors know little about what is going on at a farming level. The dairy farming sector is made up of lots of very small farmers and, at present, dairies know little about their suppliers and there are no inspections taking place.

Giorgi said the government and dairies should work together to reform the farming sector and introduce on-site inspections.

The road to reform is unlikely to be an easy one. Giving an indication of the scale of the challenge ahead, Giorgi said: “There are fewer trained laboratory personnel in the whole of China, which is three times as big as the EU in terms of population, than in Germany alone.”

1Food Policy (2011)
DOI:10.1016/j.foodpol.2011.03.008
The China melamine milk scandal an its implications for food safety regulation
Authors: Xiaofang Pei, Annuradha Tandon, Anton Alldrick, Liana Giorgi, Wei Huang, Ruijia Yang

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