By Sun Juanjuan
Due to the melamine incidence in 2008, the development of dairy industry in China has been a high concern. Recently, with the establishment of new national standard of raw milk, which lowered the protein content from 2.95% down to 2.8%, and increased the colony-forming unit (CFU) from 500 per milliliter to 2 million, the milk topic has attached public attention again.
This time, the core debate around the topic is whether such standard is too low to ensure safety of milk. As questioned by the president of Bright Dairy & Food, Guo Benheng, China’ raw milk standard was nearly the world’s lowest. Against this context, officials from Health Department and Agriculture Department as well as certain experts have participated in the debate, in order to eliminate the doubt and explain the purposes.
From this event, three considerations are worth discussing here for making food safety standards.
Firstly, it should distinguish the difference between food safety standards and food quality standards. As claimed by the officials, this national standard is focusing on the food safety. Based on this, there are a set of grading standards with regard to quality. Additionally, in practice, the raw milk buying by many dairy companies has not only met such safety standard but also higher quality standards according to the company policies on quality respectively. In this case, the improvement of the dairy quality is more a capability of the food operators who want to take advantage of the quality as a weapon to gain market share. However, the current confusion between food safety and food quality has mixed the responsibilities between government and food operators.
Secondly, it should take into account the interest of the small farmers but not through the way of lowering standards. As an excuse explained in this case, the formulation of this standard is in line with the current reality given more than 70 percent of the dairy farmers in China are small-sized farms. Therefore, such standard is more practical to ensure milk safety currently. Certainly, the large quantity of the small food business either in dairy industry or other food sectors has formed a high challenge for guarantee food safety in China. Nevertheless, it is not wise to keep them access into market by lowering standard. As a matter of fact, small food business can make their own choices on how to improve food quality as long as government can provide a fair, friendly regulatory environment. As claimed in the Declaration of Nyéléni in 2007,
Most of food producers are ready, able and willing to feed all the world’s peoples. The heritage as food producers is critical to the future of humanity. This is specially so in the case of women and indigenous peoples who are historical creators of knowledge about food and agriculture…
Thirdly, it should ensure the participation of all the interested parties during decision making of food safety standards. For many doubts raised in the debate, one of the reasons was that such standard only reflected the expectation of certain parties, such as the competent authorizes or several big dairy companies. As far as dairy industry is concerned, the question has been raised for a long time that only those big food companies have the opportunities to take part in the process of standard setting or even have the qualification to formulate the standard. As a result, the food operators who lack the chances for participation during the decision making are keeping questioning the authentic and effectiveness of those standards since they only created a favor for major dairy producers. And for the public and consumers, they were only informed when the result came out. Against this context, it is no wonder why the public show little confidence in the so called national safety standards.
Generally, food safety regulations take forms in standards. Only the standards are adequate to ensure food safety, can the food regulation perform in an effective and trusty way.