If there will ever be a "Nobel Price" for "food innovation" (read adulteration!), the contest for this award will be a close one between India and China! while Chinese adulterators have global reputation ( or notoriety?) Indians are satisfied with local "achievements". Probably international community might not bother about adulteration as long the tainted foods are not exported, poor citizens in countries with loose vigilance system with no teeth are the silent sufferers. The notorious "Melamine" milk from China exported to a number of countries last year brought the focus light on the "ingenuity" of Chinese fraudsters and some credit must go to the government there for taking drastic action of summarily executing two of the "culprits" found "responsible" for the crime. Look at India where adulteration of food seems to have become one of the "fundamental rights" of unscrupulous traders and business people as there are no deterrent mechanism to punish the guilty. Other wise how can one justify country-wide adulteration of milk, considered the most protective foods, especially for vegetarians with spurious ingredients like detergents, urea, animal fat etc with authorities least concerned about such incidences and the so called synthetic milk brings windfall profit for the perpetrators. There are hundreds of such instances of food adulteration through out the country with practically no one caught and punished for the heinous crime.
From China comes another innovation reported as "Leather Milk" made from leather proteins using ingenuity that must be admired! It was "discovered" recently, if one is to believe the official story, the dairy industry is making milk powder with no milk solids at all and earning windfall profits through their illegal activities. Leather scraps commonly available in slaughter houses contain collagen in plenty and when hydrolyzed they yield protein hydrolyzates with high nitrogen content. As milk is priced based on protein levels in China and since protein content is assessed through estimation of nitrogen, any substance, especially organic in nature containing nitrogenous material, when added to milk can boost the protein value and high protein values can bring high income to the milk "producers". If normal milk is diluted and then "fortified" with leather protein hydrolyzate (LPH) to bring up the protein level and get high prices, no one will be wiser to this fraud. Detecting qualitatively and quantitatively presence of LPH is not easy unless sophisticated laboratory facilities are used and the process can be time consuming. As collagen is a rich source of hydroxy proline, one may have to go for detecting the presence of this characteristic amino acid in suspected samples.
While small addition of LPH may not be unsafe to any serious extent, production of milk like preparations devoid of milk solids is a crime that deserves severest punishment. As milk flavors of high quality are available, LPH can be a base that can be formulated into 100% synthetic milk conforming to a few chemical specifications laid for genuine milk. It is not that concerned people were unaware of this deplorable practice because demand for slaughter house waste has been high in China obviously under the pretext that they are used in animal feed. LPH manufacture is a thriving business and its current cost is about $ 120 per ton whereas milk powder market commands more than $ 2000 per ton. Even if LPH is used for adulteration of normal milk at the minimum level, powder made from it can be as cheap as $ 500 per ton. Why such an obnoxious practice was allowed to be perpetuated till now is one of mysteries of Chinese style of governance. It is unfortunate that the milk powder such as the one produced by the fraudsters is consumed predominantly by children and one can imagine its consequences on the health and development of these kids. It is well known that chemicals like dichromates, sulfuric acid etc are routinely used to soften the leather during processing and these chemicals are still present in LPH which go into adulterated milk.
Why it should take so many years for the Chinese government to ban use of LPH to edible foods defies logic and the ban in 2009 can at best be termed as "better late than never". Whether the adulteration business has covert sanction of the government is a point that perplexes many impartial observers. In India one hopes that the technology for leather milk will not be smuggled from China for the benefit of local fellow adulterators as the climate in India may be more conducive to such practices.