Visitors were scarce at the Guangdong Dongtai Dairy
Products booth during the third phase of the 105th China Import and
Export Fair, also called the Canton Fair.
The third phase of China's largest trade event began
Sunday and ended Thursday.
Xu Haoming, who's in charge of external trade for Dongtai,
said he wasn't surprised by the lack of visitors.
Based in the Jiedong economic development zone of south
China's Guangdong Province, Dongtai specializes in dairy products such
as baby milk powder. It exports to Asian and African countries.
Demand has fallen because of the global downturn, but
that's common to all industries, said Xu. The dairy industry has an
"The blow to Chinese food businesses from food safety
problems such as the melamine contamination scandal last year" has
been almost fatal, said Xu.
The melamine-adulteration milk and baby formula scandal,
which left six infants dead and almost 300,000 ill, came to light last
September. It had a swift impact on China's dairy product exports.
According to the General Administration of Customs, dairy
exports dropped 10.4 percent last year to 121,000 tonnes after the
scandal made the headlines.
Xu said his company's exports are down 50 percent.
"The melamine contamination scandal has passed, but
its negative impact lingers. There is a trust crisis for the Chinese
dairy products industry," said Xu, "What concerns me most at
the moment is how the credibility of Chinese food could be
Dongtai is not the only company in China to feel the
impact of concern over food-safety problems.
Century International, a trading company based in east
China's Dalian City, Liaoning Province, didn't bring milk powder to the
Han Wenjun, the commercial representative of Century
International, explained that many countries, especially those in
Europe, the United States and Japan, had raised standards for food
imports after the melamine scandal. His company's export business had
essentially vanished, he said, and the firm had been forced to shift to
importing milk powder to survive.
Yue Jianping with Jinghong Foodstuffs, based in Quanzhou
City, east China's Fujian Province, said the melamine scandal had
tarnished the image of the entire Chinese food industry.
"The lollipops made by my company are free of toxic
substances such as melamine, but we've felt the sting of the scandal
and still have to make explanations from time to time," said Yue.
Thousands or even tens of thousands of companies might
face similar questions. As of 2008, China had an estimated 500,000
"large-scale" food processing companies, along with 350,000
small and medium-sized ones, and more than 20 million privately owned
businesses producing and selling food products. Authorities last year
investigated an average of 200 fake food cases a day, mainly among
Chinese produce, fish and dairy items are rapidly becoming
part of the global food chain. Food exports totaled 31 billion U.S.
dollars from January to November 2008, up 13.8 percent from the same
period in 2007.
Xu said his company tried during the Canton fair to get
the message out to overseas clients that most Chinese food was safe,
and food scandals were sporadic and caused by a few businesses.
Ye Caihong with Aixin Foodstuff of Xiamen City, Fujian,
said her company had tightened product quality control and inspection
Liu Dawei, deputy manager with the external trade
department of Linjin Food Industry of Anhui Province, said the
credibility crisis had forced Chinese food businesses to pay more
attention to product quality control.
Liu said his company, a jelly maker, had opened a
technical research and development center this year and improved
quality monitoring and testing.
The government has taken steps to improve food safety.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress,
China's top legislature, adopted a Food Safety Law in late February.
The law stipulates that "only those items proved to be safe and
necessary in food production are allowed to be listed as food
The law, which will take effect on June 1, also says food
producers may only use approved additives. Companies that break the law
face possible temporary or permanent closure.
Also, the Ministry of Health issued a circular in March to
its local offices, urging them to step up prevention of food contamination
and monitoring of food-borne illnesses. The circular covered the 16
provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities where food problems
have been most prevalent.
Health Minister Chen Zhu said the ministry would create a
national database covering food contamination and food-borne illnesses
within two years. He also ordered hospitals and other health
organizations to report food poisoning and other food-related illnesses
Huo Jianguo, chairman of the China Chamber of Commerce for
Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-Product,
said his organization had introduced new management methods to improve
These methods include encouraging and supporting
processing businesses to build fixed ties with raw material suppliers
and encouraging collective procurement.
Some Chinese companies have embarked on construction of a
food safety monitoring chain.
Fan Xiaoshan, manager with the tomato and fruit marketing
department of COFCO Xinjiang Tunhe, said it was imperative to exercise
a full process of monitoring system from farmland to table to ensure
Although dairy exporters are still struggling, some
foreign markets have reopened.
Xu noted that Turkey had lifted its ban on Chinese milk
powder and the milk powder traded by his company had been allowed to
reenter the market there.