China's Ministry of Agriculture launched an inspection of the country's dairy industry on Monday after tainted milk powder sickened babies and aroused concern. The number of infants infected with kidney stones caused by contaminated milk powders had soared to about 1,253 with two dead as of 8 a.m. Monday, said the Ministry of Health on Monday.
Six ministry teams were dispatched to the country's six major milk-producing regions, including Beijing, Hebei, Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang in the north, Xinjiang in the west and the central Henan Province.
The officials will talk to dairy farmers, feedstuff producers, operators of milk collection stations and supermarket managers to find out their concerns and suggestions.
They will try to assess the impact the Sanlu baby formula scandal on the dairy industry and put forward policy proposals on how to protect farmers' interests and promote the stable development of the dairy industry.
They will also investigate various links, such as price changes in raw milk and dairy products, problems in raw milk purchase and flaws in milk station management, among others.
Two brothers who operated a private milk collection station in Hebei were arrested for putting melamine into raw milk and selling the tainted milk to the Sanlu Group, the producer of the infant formula that gave 432 babies kidney stones, according to local police.
Melamine, a chemical used in plastics, contains nitrogen and can make the protein content in diluted milk appear higher, said food science expert Ren Fazheng of the China Agricultural University.
Dairy analyst Chen Lianfang with Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant said the domestic dairy industry needed a law for stronger regulation.
"Repeated expansion has led to oversupply in dairy products, while excessively-fierce competition exacerbated price fluctuations and increased quality control risks."
In 2006, China had about 1,600 dairy producers with a total annual capacity exceeding 50 million tonnes, while dairy output totaled 33 million tonnes.
(Xinhua News Agency September 15, 2008)