China to clamp down on antibiotics in milk

By Francis Yang

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Milk, China

China is preparing to launch a new national standard on raw milk to
prevent dairy products containing antibiotic residues from reaching
the marketplace.

According to a report in Shanghai-based newspaper China Business News this week, a new national standard on raw milk, which has been drawn up by the Ministry of Agriculture, is waiting to be approved by the Standardization Administration of China. It will make the testing of antibiotics and flavacol M1 in raw milk compulsory for dairy processors. The move shows the increasing drive for food safety and consumer health in China, where consumption of dairy products has grown rapidly in the last 30 years. Antibiotics are widely used by Chinese dairy farmers to treat infections in their dairy herds and there is no regulation in place to restrict their use. But residues of these drugs can reach a cow's milk and therefore, the human foodchain. A survey conducted by China's food safety authority AQSIQ in the first half of this year showed that around 50 per cent of milk products on the market contained residues of antibiotics, said the paper. This can be dangerous for people who are allergic to specific antibiotics. Also, frequent exposure to low level antibiotics can cause microorganisms to become resistant to them, through mutation, so that they are ineffective when needed to fight a human infection. In other countries, cows given antibiotics are typically withheld from the milk supply for some days and both farmers and dairy processors carry out routine testing for antibiotics, with serious penalties for those found to be selling milk containing residues. But in China's major dairy regions, where milk is collected from thousands of small dairy farmers, testing for antibiotics is not standard practice. It is not known when the new standard will come into force, or how strictly it will be enforced, although it is expected that AQSIQ will carry out spot checks on milk suppliers, with fines for those found to contain antibiotic residues. For dairy processors supplied by numerous small farmers, the standard could be difficult to meet. However there is one area that has proven the measures workable. In Guangdong province the farmers have been controlling antibiotic residues since they began exporting to Hong Kong in the 1980s. This shows that the standard can be implemented across China, says Wang Dingmian, deputy chairman of Guangdong Dairy Association. "As long as farmers isolate sick cows and separate the milk during that time from the milk collected during normal days, their milk will not be contaminated by antibiotics,"​ he told AP-Foodtechnology.com. "In Guangdong, the milk collected during the sick days of the cow is fed to calves, or used to produce condensed milk. There are no technical problems in implementing the measure; all the new standard requires is that dairy companies and farmers change their mindset, and do not risk people's health in exchange for their own benefits."​ In Guangdong, dairy companies buy milk from farmers for 3000 to 3500 yuan per ton, but milk with antibiotic residues sells for just 500 yuan per ton, giving farmers an incentive to separate milk with over antibiotics from normal milk. Guangdong's milk production accounts for less than 1 per cent of the national total however. China currently has around 12 million cows producing around 3 tons of milk each per year. The Chinese are estimated to consume about 18kg of dairy produce per capita.

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