China’s dairy industry has developed “a zero-tolerance regime for infant formula production” since the country’s tainted milk crisis ten years ago, with several layers of protection, according to Richard Hall, the chairman of food and drink consultancy Zenith Global.
It is a decade today since news first broke of a food safety scare which would quickly become a major contamination incident, as the chemical compound melamine was found in infant formula products sold in China. The melamine crisis killed at least six babies and affected an estimated 300,000 more.
But the country’s dairy industry has since got its house in order over food safety, Hall says.
“First of all, permission has to be given to become a producer,” he explains. “This is restricted to those who have already invested in high-quality equipment and processes, on the basis of inspection and certification.
“Because of the global importance of the Chinese market and a lack of sufficient capacity within the country, encouragement has been given to international companies seeking exports to China, as well as to Chinese companies willing to invest overseas and import.
“The second layer of protection is that every product must conform to one of three age segments and every formula must receive prior testing before approval. This includes all ingredients and all innovation. It’s a procedure that often takes more than a year.
“The third safety guarantee is what appears to be monthly sampling and testing of all products on sale in stores. This ensures the minimum possible scope for any question over quality and I understand full compliance has already exceeded 99.5%.
Hall, who is also Chairman of FoodBev Media, has been in China talking to infant formula producers about the quality and confidence that exists within the country’s dairy segment today.
He continued: “I was invited to visit the farming, production and packing activities of leading Chinese brand Feihe in the northeast of China and came away hugely impressed by the entire operation, but especially by the presentation, hygiene and laboratories.
“An aspect I had never considered before, but seems obvious once stated, is that Feihe has sought to create formulae dedicated to the particular dietary requirements of Chinese babies. One of its more recent innovations is an organic range, which it believes has significant growth potential.
“Overall, I found the Chinese dairy industry very confident that Chinese families are now receiving the best possible nutrition and service from infant formula products.
“This was already vitally important under China’s policy restricting each family to one child. Since the policy was relaxed last year to allow two children, there hasn’t been a surge in the birth rate, but there has been an increase and the market for infant formula is expected to continue with strong growth for the foreseeable future.”
The country’s ability to keep pace with demand will be an important consideration as it continues to recover from the tainted milk crisis ten years ago.
There are signs that other markets in Asia are recognising this: last month, Japan started the process of lifting a ban on liquid infant formula products, which it said could be useful in the event of natural disasters because of their ease of preparation. It had previously banned the product in the absence of adequate safety standards, but is now investigating the possibility of opening the product back up to general sale in a controlled manner.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2018