China promises to target leather protein in milk tests

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Milk Dairy

The Chinese government has warned that it is on the look out for leather protein in a fresh round of dairy testing over the coming year.

Authorities have pledged to crack down on companies that illegally add either leather protein from scraps of animal skin or the industrial chemical melamine to milk products.

Like melamine, hydrolyzed leather protein has been used in milk products to artificially increase protein levels and therefore disguise watered down merchandise.

Inspection plans

The Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement that inspectors would carry out 6,450 random checks on dairy products this year. All the inspections will test for melamine and 30 per cent will look out for leather protein.

The Chinese government is concerned that in the wake of the melamine scandal in 2008, as testing for the chemical has become more rigorous, unscrupulous companies may have turned to leather protein as an alternative.

The use of melamine in 2008 resulted in 300,000 cases of illness and six deaths in one of the most high-profile contamination cases in recent years.

Leather protein is not in itself as dangerous as melamine but can be potentially very harmful on account of the chemicals like sulphuric acid that may be used in the extraction process.

Since the 2008 melamine scandal China has struggled to improve its food safety record. Despite high profile arrests and tougher laws, safety scares have continued to emerge.

Confidence in Chinese dairy products has plummeted and domestic milk production is still below 2008 levels.

In its latest statement, the Chinese government reported at the end of last week that dairy was one of the priority sectors of the food industry in relation to safety.

It set out a food safety strategy for the year ahead that included plans to improve the monitoring and assessment of food safety risks, step up regulatory enforcement and set up a system to identify and punish those responsible for safety failures.

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