China's milk consumption
Tuesday, September 23, 2008 | 11:50 AM ET
by Andree Lau, CBCnews.ca
The news that tainted milk products have sickened 53,000 babies and killed at least four in China is heartbreaking, and it makes me wonder about China’s increasing milk consumption in a country that traditionally does not drink milk.
The Chinese diet traditionally relies on vegetables, and not dairy products, for calcium.
The China Project, a study that began in the ‘80s which examined the diets of 6,500 people living in rural China, also concluded that Chinese people don’t need as much calcium to prevent osteoporosis as Americans do, because the Chinese consumed less animal protein.
Then there’s the fact that the majority of Chinese adults are lactose-intolerant, lacking the enzyme needed to break down the lactose in milk.
Yet milk consumption in urban China, in particular, has jumped from a stagnant 4.8 kilograms per person in the early '90s to 15.7 kilograms per person in 2002. (In comparison, rural consumption of dairy products has stayed at about one kilogram since the mid-'80s.)
A researcher prepares to test milk samples collected from stores, at a government food safety laboratory in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday.(Associated Press)
The World Trade Organization measures a country’s standard of living by how much milk its citizens consume; it’s supposed to be a signal of its wealth and stability.
But that’s the problem. Like the influx and rise of fast food in China, milk is associated with the affluent Western world. The feeling is: if Michael Jordan (who appeared in a Got Milk? campaign) is famous, rich, talented AND drinks milk, then certainly my future superstar shall too.
Despite a long tradition of breast-feeding, many Chinese parents have also been swayed by slick marketing campaigns, erroneously believing that milk formula is more nutritious than breast milk.
China’s increasing demand for dairy products is raising new issues of production too. Not only the current tainted milk scandal, but also the questionable conditions in which dairy cows are being raised are results of the big dairy push.
In April, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said: "I have a dream to provide every Chinese, especially children, sufficient milk each day."
But with all due respect, premier, do they really need it?
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From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.
About the writers
Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.
Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.
Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.
Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).
Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.
Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.
Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.
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