China to revise infant formula standards
in the light of recent research into infant nutrition.
Experts are said to be concerned by the high levels of protein currently found in milk powder for infants. Recent research suggests that excess protein, causing rapid growth during infant years, can increase the risk of heart diseases and diabetes later in life. The average protein content in breast milk is about 1.1 per cent, but currently in China, the percentage is around 1.8 per cent, much higher than needed, says Wang Dingmian, deputy chairman of the Guangdong Dairy Industry Association and one of the experts asked to assist with the revision. "Though there is not an international standard for this issue, most of the developed countries are restricting protein content to about 1.1-1.3 per cent, he told AP-Foodtechnology.com. China's infant nutrition market is booming, as parents with growing incomes spend increasing amounts on their only children. China is expected to catch up with Japan to become the second largest baby powdered milk market after America. However there are rising concerns about obesity among children. Data from China's national surveys on health in school children showed that the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children aged 7-18 years increased 28 times and obesity increased four times between 1985 and 2000, particularly in boys. The figures suggest that China is fast catching up with the West in terms of its obesity levels, setting itself up for a major public health challenge with rising chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. Wang said that if dairies are able to produce quality milk now, they will be able to meet the revised standards, which could be finished by the end of the year. China is also paying increasing attention to the quality and nutritional make-up of infant formula and milk powder in general. It has seen several safety scares, some resulting in infant fatalities as a result of missing nutrients. This week YaShiLi, based in Guangdong province, said it would recall certain batches of powdered milk destined for middle-aged and elderly people because of sanitary concerns. However companies are also working on more nutritional formulations for milk powder, focussing on the specific needs of different body organs and babies of different ages. Currently China produces about 1.1 million tons of powdered milk each year. The product accounts for 40 per cent of the dairy sector's production and nearly 45 per cent of its sales. But since tariffs dropped last year to meet WTO requirements, imports have surged to more than 130,000 tons, an 80 per cent increase.