Dairy Intolerance in China

As part of a group of UK Nuffield farm scholars Emma Hockridge travelled to China last July to try to gain a better knowledge of Chinese farming practices. Her report - and her comments on the Chinese dairy industry and lactose intolerance in China - appeared in the autumn 2006 Food Magazine.

Dairy farming may seem out of place in a country where lactose intolerance is very common, but government officials who led our visit skipped over this point (along with many others) telling us that such dietary intolerance only affects around 10% of the population.

Although there are no official figures, studies have indicated that lactose intolerance affects around 30% of Chinese children, and a study of Chinese adults showed that 92.3% suffered from some level of lactose mal-absorption.

‘Despite this there is a huge push to encourage Chinese people to drink more milk. It is advertised as important for good health, the government funds milk-rounds to schools and the state-run television has aired programmes on the benefits of milk drinking. Many of the world’s top dairy companies have entered China as a result of seeing the huge potential market of 1.3 billion inhabitants - though many of these companies find it hard to find reliable and hygienic supplies of raw milk in China itself.

‘Animal welfare is not an important issue in China. When cage sizes of EU battery hens were explained one government representative said “in China we could use this to raise cattle”.

‘Such attitudes were in force at the region’s largest dairy farm where a herd of 3,000 Friesian cattle (the average UK herd is around 90 cows) was kept on concrete floors in 90% humidity and in temperatures of 34ºC, shackled to short chains. It was not surprising that we saw widespread evidence of lameness and mastitis.’

First published in 2007


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