Food safety scandal 'heavy blow' to China's dairy industry

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China's dairy industry was severely harmed by the melamine-tainted baby formula scandal in 2008, said an official in charge of food safety.

The incident tarnished the image of China's dairy producers, and a big share of the Chinese market was taken by foreign competitors, Liu Peizhi, vice director of the office of the State Council Food Safety Commission, said Wednesday.

The imports of dairy products soared from 120,600 tonnes in 2008 to 597,000 tonnes in 2009, as Chinese-brand baby formula became unpopular, said Liu, also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top political advisory body.

It was reported that Chinese mothers flocked to Hong Kong, Macao and foreign countries to purchase baby formula milk products after the scandal. Such "milk sweeping" tours even resulted in milk powder supplies in Hong Kong and Macao occasionally running out.

Liu said the milk scandal was a case in point, highlighting the lack of standardized and well-supervised production in China's food industry. There were too many food manufacturers for the government to monitor properly.

China has 448,000 licensed food producers, 80 percent of which are small businesses employing fewer than 10 people. Also, farming and animal breeding are mostly carried out by over 200 million individual farmers, according to Liu.

The problem gave rise to two major food safety hazards in China: pollution generated by human activities and excessive use of additives, said Liu.

He proposed several measures to improve food safety, including raising the threshold of market access for food companies, boosting government scrutiny over the entire process of food production and marketing, and disclosing related information to the public.

In 2008, melamine-tainted milk powder killed at least six infants and sickened 300,000 children across the country.

Liu was one of the 16 speakers making a speech Wednesday at the plenary meeting of the CPPCC National Committee, which was also attended by Jia Qinglin, chairman of the CPPCC National Committee.

Other speakers touched on topics about social management innovation, pre-school education, new energy develop, among others.

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