'I have a dream to provide every Chinese, especially children, sufficient milk each day,' says Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
A billboard in Beijing shows a small grinning child clutching a carton of milk, with champion hurdler Liu Xiang towering above holding a similar carton. The message is simple - drink milk and grow up to be a big, strapping athlete.
AdvertisementThese are rather unusual developments in that Chinese have never actually fancied milk much.
Indeed China is considered a lactose-intolerant nation. Lactose intolerance means that you cannot digest foods with lactose in them. Lactose is the sugar found in milk and foods made with milk.
You cannot digest lactose because you do not have enough lactase enzyme. The small intestine needs lactase enzyme to break down lactose. If lactose is not digested, it can cause gas and stomach cramps.
'When I first went to Hong Kong in the 1960s, I would bring in little pieces of New Zealand cheese. At one point the landlord, a Cantonese guy, saw the cheese and got violently ill just by the sight. It grossed him out, as much the idea of eating rotten cow's milk as anything. Now his grandchildren are eating pizza and processed cheese,' remarks a researcher on dietary traditions.
It should be interesting to note that cheese and processed milk products, currently popular in China, are low in lactose.
Newspaper columnist Xinran, author of What the Chinese Don't Eat, says the 'dairification' of China may in part be due to those, particularly uneducated former peasants, who aspire to Western lifestyles but view them through a strange prism.
'They believe that Westerners had a better life based on meat and milk. They think white people or black people [in the West] are physically stronger,' she notes.
And the mere fact of meat and milk becoming available, married to growing prosperity, after such a long period of scarcity has changed patterns of consumption.
As well as planning for more milk consumption, the Chinese government is making every effort to increase production, recently rising to the third biggest producer in the world behind the US and India.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, China's consumption of milk has gone from 26 kilocalories per person per day in 2002 to 43 in 2005. Westerners consume many times more, but their demand is stable.
And despite the efforts of the Chinese government, when production fails to meet demand the consequence is higher global prices. Germany, a big exporter of milk, has already seen prices rise. In Britain the phenomenon will be slower to take effect as farmers are locked into contracts that keep an agreed price.
Jim Begg, head of Dairy UK, says it is clear the average UK consumer will be affected by China's newfound love of milk.
'It is true and it's real. The world's markets, commodity markets, are booming and it's being driven by the demand of China'.
'In China you have significant population growth and urbanization and at the same time the government are supporting the drive for increased dairy consumption for school-children. It just shows what can happen when governments really get behind milk.'
The businesses are doing dairy on a massive scale using imported Friesian cows.
But many think that the climate isn't really suited to dairy farming. Humidity there is very high, they say.
The future is a bit uncertain still, but pregnant with many possibilities.
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