China has sought to calm public concern about the new milk safety scandal, saying it has stepped up scrutiny of production.
Chinese worker checks ingredients in milk products amid new safety concerns
China has pledged to halt the use of leather protein in food production, saying the potentially harmful substance was being added to some products in the country's latest concern over food safety. The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) has responded by writing on its website that authorities will "harshly crack down on and punish companies that illegally process or produce milk using leather protein."
A child suffering from problems related to consuming milk tainted with industrial chemical melamine
State-run China Daily reported on Friday that authorities shut down Chenyuan Dairy Company in Jinhua in the eastern province of Zhejiang after they found leather protein was used in the company's products.
Milk contaminated with leather protein
Leather protein is derived from scraps of animal skin. When added to dairy products, the protein powder normally used in leather production gives dairy products a higher protein content, the statement said.
Its use as an animal feed additive is allowed, but the government in February 2009 had banned the use of leather protein in food consumed by humans due to its potential harm.
However, unscrupulous food producers have been found adding it to dairy products to increase protein content. There have so far been no reports of illness, but the scandal is a hot topic on many Internet blogs and websites.
China's state news agency, Xinhua, said in a commentary: "Reports of the 'leather milk' incident will undoubtedly cause panic among citizens and cause another crisis of confidence for the dairy industry."
Dairy sector scandal
China has pledged to halt the use of leather protein in food production
The government appeares keen to thwart any public concern over the issue, especially since China's dairy sector was rocked by a huge scandal in 2008, when the industrial chemical melamine was found to be widely used in milk. The chemical was blamed for the deaths of at least six infants and for causing serious kidney ailments in some 300,000 people.
China executed two people in November 2009 for their role in the melamine scandal, but also kept a tight lid on public discontent over the case, jailing a man who organised a website for parents of children who became ill.
China says it has stepped up production control. The country's Agriculture Ministry has warned milk producers that it will carry out 6,450 spot checks on fresh milk this year.
Chinese authorities have warned milk producers that it will carry out 6,450 spot checks on fresh milk this year
Food safety is a major problem in China, where scares regularly emerge, including the recent scandals involving contaminated red wine, bleached mushrooms, fake tofu, recycled cooking oil, contaminated toys and toothpaste.
Author: Sherpem Sherpa (Reuters/AP)
Editor: Sarah Berning