Print Edition - 2017-03-09  |  ASIANEWSNETWORK

Focus on the basics

  • Domestic dairy products are yet to regain Chinese consumers’ trust
- Li Yang

Mar 9, 2017-

The year 2020 is critical to the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), as the country’s leadership has pledged to build a well-off society in an all-round way by then. Almost every industry has its individual (as well as collective) five-year plan with specific objectives and ways to implement it. And unlike many others, the dairy industry has a qualitative-oriented, rather than quantity-oriented, five-year plan.

“China will have a world-class, advanced dairy industry by 2020”, says the national dairy industry development plan jointly released by relevant ministries recently.

The plan has detailed blueprints for the next three years of development, covering the entire industrial chain, from cattle farms to quality inspection. 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 added to milk to increase its protein content, left more than 50,000 infants ill and claimed the lives of six.

Today, however, the dairy industry’s rejuvenation plan has hardly drawn consumers’ attention. 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, food safety watchdogs have strengthened quality inspection, and a stricter food safety law has come into force 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 the officials responsible for the scandals but releasing them after they had served a few years in prison—hasn’t fully convinced the people that the authorities have “zero tolerance” for those involved in food safety scandals. The relationship between the adulterators and supervision officials today is more like that between mice and cats.

The authorities, for example, hoped the melamine scandal will prompt the dairy industry to make a new beginning. Instead, the 2008 scandal opened a Pandora’s box. To ensure that the food industry is not hit by another scandal, therefore, the supervision officials have to be on constant alert and take preemptive actions.

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 tactics have exactly the opposite effect on the public.

What the dairy industry development plan should have elaborated on, but regretfully has not, is the competition from less-expensive but good-quality foreign dairy products that have flooded China’s market. The other blow for the domestic dairy farms is the import of milk from overseas by more and more Chinese companies.

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 because of its enthusiasm and idealism.

Published: 09-03-2017 09:09

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