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China Shuts Nearly Half its Dairies in Safety Checks

A Chinese worker monitors the milk getting sucked into a giant glass container at a milking station near Hohhot, northwestern China's Inner Mongolia province, October 7, 2008

China is shutting down nearly half its dairies after their licenses were revoked in the government's latest effort to stop the industry from producing contaminated milk.

The government said Saturday that 533 of the country's 1,176 dairies have been ordered to end their operations. But it said 107 of the closed facilities could reapply to open once they improve quality controls.

The order is the government's latest attempt to clean up the industry in the aftermath of the 2008 baby milk health scandal, in which at least three babies were killed and 300,000 sickened. An investigation showed that some milk suppliers were adding the industrial chemical melamine, which is used to make plastic, to their milk production to make it appear higher in protein. Two people were executed for their role in the scandal.

Earlier this year, hydrolyzed leather protein, which is made from leather scraps, turned up in some milk supplies, again to increase the purported protein content.

The government subsequently ordered inspections of all of the country's dairies. It did not specify which dairies would be shut. State media said the safety campaign was aimed mostly at smaller companies that produce about 10 percent of the country's milk supply.

With the safety push, China's largest dairies are likely to increase their dominant market share. They are more likely to be able to afford the specialized equipment that the government has ordered installed to monitor whether foreign materials have been added to milk in the production process.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.