Dairy Industry in Mainland China:
Facts, Regulations, and Animal Welfare

August 23, 2021Zihao Yu


Mainland China has a growing industry of dairy and dairy products. However, the laws and regulations focus more on product quality and public health. Animal welfare in the dairy industry is seldom mentioned instead of by several largest companies in mainland China. This article discusses the facts, regulations, and animal welfare in mainland China.



According to statista.com, in 2019, the Chinese population consumed on average 12.5 kilograms of milk and dairy products per person. Even though per capita dairy consumption in China has increased slightly since 2016, it remains relatively low compared to other countries worldwide. According to another source, Chinese milk consumption per capita was ranked 137 in the world among 182 countries from 2003 to 2007.


With the growing market, China imported approximately 3.37 million metric tons of dairy products in 2020. The top three countries are New Zealand (55,329 tonnes), Australia (20,012 tonnes), and the United States (12,841 tonnes). In 2018, among all dairy products, milk powder imports contributed nearly 70% to the import value of dairy products in China.


China has not been considered a major dairy-producing country, but the companies Yili and Mengniu have become 2 of the 10 biggest dairy companies in the world according to Rabobank’s annual Global Dairy Top 20 list. Yili is ranked 5 on the list, and Mengniu Dairy is ranked 8.


Health Awareness and Plant-Based Alternatives

Health consciousness is one of the major factors that make the dairy industry grow in China. Although dairy products are a useful source of protein, calcium, vitamins, and several minerals, Chinese people are genetically predisposed to lactase deficiency (around 85% of people suffer from lactose intolerance in China). In 2000, the Government also launched a program in all public schools to give each child a cup of free milk. Major producers in China also use techniques to help break down lactose. Official dietary guidelines recommend consuming three times as many dairy products in China as people do today.

In this situation, the industry of plant-based alternatives also grows rapidly. Plant-based milk can provide enough nutrition while avoiding the problem of deficiency. From 2015 to 2017, plant-based milk sales increased by 17%.

"Tibet-6003 - Street View in Gyangtse" by archer10 (Dennis) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Laws and Regulations

In 1990, the Ministry of Health promulgated the "Milk and Dairy Health Management Measures", in order to strengthen the health management of milk and dairy products, to ensure the effective implementation of dairy health standards, improve the quality of dairy, and protect the health of the people.


In 2008, the National Development and Reform Commission issued the "Dairy Processing Industry Access Condition", used in the investment behavior of products processing industry, prevent blind investment and repeated construction, guiding the reasonable layout, saving and effective use of resources, and protecting the production enterprises. The environment promotes the coordinated development of dairy processing and raw milk production.


Product Quality Incident

The 2008 Chinese milk scandal was a significant food safety incident in China. The scandal involved milk and infant formula along with other food materials and components being adulterated with melamine. The chemical was used to increase the nitrogen content of diluted milk, giving it the appearance of higher protein content to pass quality control testing. Of an estimated 294,000 victims, 6 babies died from kidney stones and other kidney damage, and an estimated 54,000 were hospitalized.


After the incident, a series of regulations and standards on dairy product quality were published by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, the Inspection and Quarantine, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the National Certification and Accreditation Administration, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Health in 2008.


Recently in 2020, the State Market Supervision Administration issued the "Dairy Quality and Safety Enhancement Action Plan" to ensure food safety.


Infant Formula Milk Powder

In early 2018, the China Food and Drug Administration took measures called ‘‘Measures for Administration of Registration of Formulas of Infant Formula Milk Powder’’ that stipulate that infant formula milk powder that has not been registered in China is not allowed to be sold in China, and the Certificate of Registration of Formulas of Infant Formula Milk Powder must be obtained according to the law for imported infant formula milk powder to be marketed in China.

"Milking it in China. Mengniu Factory Inner Mongolia" by Cory M. Grenier is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Animal Welfare

There is no animal welfare law or farmed animal welfare law in China. The Animal Husbandry Law of the People's Republic of China 2015 does not have any terms concerning animal welfare. The companies holding the largest market share in the Dairy Product Production in China industry include Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Co., Ltd., China Mengniu Dairy Co., Ltd., Shanghai Bright Dairy & Food Co., Ltd., and Heilongjiang Feihe Dairy Co., Ltd.



ICCAW is short for the International Cooperation Committee of Animal Welfare by the China Association for the Promotion of International Agriculture Cooperation. On their website, several recommended standards of farmed animal welfare are listed covering pigs, mutton sheep, beef cattle, laying hens, broilers, and Cashmere goats. Animal welfare for dairy cows is not included.


Yili Industrial Group

According to the 2020 Yili Biodiversity Protection Report, helping cooperative ranchs to enhance farmed animal welfare is a commitment to Yili Group. The Yili Group commits to helping cooperations with pasture construction standardized lairs,  to improve animal welfare through specialization, standardization, humanized breeding management, make the dairy life environment, balanced daily nutrition, fine care, and provide a high-quality life "to eat, drink well, and rest well." The three pillars of animal welfare are a comfortable living environment, daily nutrition balance, and good health care. However, animal welfare is neither included in the sustainable development report 2020 nor mentioned in other parts of the website.


Mengniu Dairy

According to the website of Mengniu Dairy, there is one report called “Welfare promotion and implementation system for dairy cattle in the farm,” which is a recommendation published in 2020. According to the Sustainable Development Report 2020, animal welfare is one of the ten commitments of the company.


Bright Dairy and Feihe Dairy

On the websites of Bright Dairy and Feihe Dairy, animal welfare cannot be found on the website of Bright and of Feihe of social responsibility.



Although the largest two companies have the commitment to improve farmed animal welfare, the concept of animal welfare is still new to the whole industry of dairy in mainland China. The largest companies do not include animal welfare in their mission, social responsibility, or sustainable development goals. There is still a long way to improve the awareness of farmed animal welfare for the industry.

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