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Focus on Basics Critical to China's Dairy Industry

17 March 2017

CHINA - The year 2020 is critical to the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), as China's leadership has pledged to build an all-round well-off society by then. Almost every industry has its own individual (as well as collective) five-year plan with specific objectives and ways to implement it.

Unlike many other plans, however, the one prepared by the dairy industry is focused on quality, rather than quantity, China Daily reports.

"China will have a world-class, advanced dairy industry by 2020," according to the national dairy industry development plan released recently.

The plan includes detailed blueprints for the next three years of development, covering the entire industrial chain, from cattle farms to quality inspections. It promises that by 2020 every drop of milk produced in China will be as safe as milk produced in any foreign country.

The plan would have evoked a spirited response from the public had it been released during the melamine scandal in 2008. Back then, melamine, an industrial compound, was added to milk to give the appearance of higher protein content. It sickened more than 50,000 infants and claimed the lives of six.

Today, however, the dairy industry's rejuvenation plan has drawn little attention from consumers. And without consumers' support and trust, "a world-class advanced dairy industry" cannot be developed. Even though the dairy industry has made remarkable progress in terms of production, and even though food safety watchdogs have strengthened quality inspections and a stricter food safety law was enacted after the melamine scandal.

Domestic dairy products are yet to regain Chinese consumers' trust.

The way the melamine and other food safety scandals have been handled - arresting officials responsible but then releasing them after they serve a few years in prison - leaves people skeptical that a path of "zero tolerance" is really being followed.

The relationship between the adulterators and supervisory officials today is more like that between mice and cats. The authorities hoped the melamine scandal would prompt the dairy industry to make a new beginning. Instead, it opened a Pandora's box. To ensure that the food industry is not hit by another scandal, supervisory officials must be on constant alert and take preemptive action.

Another worrisome factor is that dairy industry associations claim sensational media reporting has given them a bad name. Even at the peak of the milk scandal, the associations stressed that isolated cases do not represent the whole sector. This kind of self-centered public relations tactic has exactly the opposite effect on the public.

What the dairy industry development plan should have elaborated on, but regrettably has not, is the competition from less-expensive but good-quality foreign dairy products that have flooded China's market. The importation of milk from overseas by more Chinese companies is another blow to domestic dairy farms.

So no matter what the government's policy agendas and promises are, industries must be not only prudent, but also practical and realistic in making plans.

Not all industries in a big economy such as China's can achieve advanced levels of production at the same time. Each industry should draw its plan according to its real situation, instead of trying to jump on the modernization bandwagon with unrealistic enthusiasm and idealism.

TheCattleSite News Desk



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