TITLE: The politics of milk - Examining claims about dairy in China. AUTHOR: P. H. Howard KEYWORDS: dairy production and consumption; corporations; marketing; government; China.

Philip H. Howard, PhD

doi: 10.15868/socialsector.41245
July 12, 2023

Claims often made about dairy in China are problematic because they “change the subject” and deflect criticism. They steer attention away from the fact that most of the benefits from increased production and consumption of industrialized dairy products in China flow to a tiny minority. They close off encouragements to develop food systems that are more diverse, more regionally self-sufficient, and less highly processed.

These claims are made frequently by dairy industry executives, government officials, investors, and even civil society organizations. They are also widely repeated in mainstream and alternative media sources.

Claim 1: Dairy is cheap. Implications: Food calories need to be affordable; one should promote calorie-dense foods and reduce their prices. Problem: Hidden costs (government subsidies, negative social and ecological impacts) are left out and not included in retail prices.

Claim 2: Dairy is nutritious. Implications: Specific nutrients, particularly protein, are needed for human health and should be promoted. Problem: The claim leaves out negative health impacts of increased consumption of dairy products particularly in ultraprocessed form, and the fact that deficiency of protein is relatively uncommon in China.

Claim 3: Rising consumer incomes are increasing demand for dairy. Implications: Domestic production and imports should be increased to meet this demand. Problem: The claim leaves out the substantial role of marketing efforts for shaping and reshaping purchasing behaviors to benefit the largest firms and their investors.

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