“Only 643 dairy producing companies, or about 55 percent of the country's total 1,176 milk enterprises, were granted licenses to continue production by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ),” according to The China Daily, the English language newspaper published by the Chinese government.
An AQSIQ spokesman said that production at the failed dairies had been halted immediately although it could re-start if the operators met the required standards.
The agency threatened tough action against companies found guilty of unlicensed production in a bid to ensure compliance.
AQSIQ has also required local government departments responsible for quality control inspections to step up the supervision of dairies which passed the latest inspections in order to ensure standards are maintained.
Last month, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce said that to sell dairy products legally, retailers must apply for new operating licenses or renew their old ones by the end of July. One licence is needed to sell dairy products that contain baby formula and another to sell formula-free dairy products.
Of the 145 companies producing milk powder for babies, 114 had their licence renewed.
The Chinese milk industry is still struggling to restore confidence in its products after the 2008 melamine scandal which killed six children and sickened up to 300,000 across the country.
Last February, The China Daily reported that dairy products containing leather-hydrolyzed protein, a banned additive, were being sold in China.
Worries about the safety of domestic dairy products have lead to a big increase in imports – particularly from Australia. Dairy Australia reported in February that China’s whole milk powder imports are likely to “remain strong” this year, after a big increase last year.
Imports of whole milk powder increased to 414,000 tons last year, up 68 per cent on 2009, according to China’s customs authority.
No one was available from the Chinese Embassy in London to provide more information about the dairy closures.
Breach of duty
Meanwhile, 12 government officials have been charged with breach of duty following the sale of tainted pork, according to another report in The China Daily.
The officials include: Quarantine inspectors and animal-epidemic prevention coordinators in Central China's Henan province and officials from the commerce bureau and animal health control department in East China's Jiangsu province.
Last month, the Henan-based Jiyuan Shuanghui Food company was accused of purchasing pigs fed with clenbuterol, an illegal addictive also known as "lean meat powder".
The substance can cause heart palpitations and dizziness.
Foods and beverages which most concern safety inspectors are dairy products, edible oils, meats, health foods, food additives and liquors, according to a statement from the State Council’s Office of the Food Safety Commission.