Since the problem of milk contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine to boost the apparent protein content came to light, incidents of melamine-containing foods have swept the globe. Major manufacturers using milk powder, including Cadbury and Unilever have withdrawn some products from sale.
Four infants in China are reported to have died as a result of consuming contaminated baby milk; some 54,000 were sickened with kidney stones and other renal failure caused by the melamine.
Israeli soy protein specialist Solbar has today moved to reassure its customers that it has the necessary quality assurance systems in place both for its plant in Ashdod, Israel, and at its 100 per cent owned Chinese plant, known as Solbar Ningbo Food Co Inc Ltd.
Although Gary Brenner, VP marketing and development, stressed that Solbar can provide the paperwork required and it does not have any concerns for the safety of the soy products it makes, the fact that it does have a production facility in China was the reason it has acted with a statement to reassure the industry.
There was already a good deal of focus on food safety before the melamine crisis, but Brenner told FoodNavigator.com that the food industry is now “in turmoil”.
He added that it is not just ingredients from China that are being scrutinised – it is “anything that comes from anywhere”.
“The issue of food safety is paramount, we read and hear about it wherever we go. We are being asked for increasing levels of documentation from independent laboratories.”
Nor is Solbar the only supplier to be proactive in reassuring the market. US colour firm DD Williamson has also issued a statement that its products pose no risk for contamination with melamine.
The company said: “In no way does protein content impact the manufacturing process for DDW food colorings, nor do they enhance any attributes of the finished colorings.
“Additionally, colorings contribute negligible nutritional value to the products in which they are used.”
An effect on sales?
Solbar is not expecting the broad concern over China to affect its own sales. All of its strategic customers have audited and approved its factory in China, which was established in 2005.
In addition, Trevor Meredith, chief technologist, said that special testing is taking place to monitor all raw materials to guarantee that there is no contamination from outside sources.
Brenner added that Solbar is perceived as wholly Israeli, and its Chinese operations are not a joint venture with a local domestic firm. He was unable to comment on whether Chinese soy firms or international firms with Chinese joint ventures are seeing an effect on their sales.
But Solbar has received some enquiries from companies that are not regular customers. “We can draw some conclusions. There could be some shifts,” Brenner said, cautiously.
Soy in China
Brenner told FoodNavigator.com in July 2007 that consolidation was starting to take place in the Chinese soy market.
From the 32 factories that were operating from around the same time as Solbar established its Chinese operations, the number had shrunk to around 20 by last year, as a result of consolidation or failure to survive in the tough market.
Brenner said today that consolidation amongst soy protein isolate producers is continuing; a few new producers of soy protein concentrates have emerged, but the expectation is that consolidation will be ongoing.
As for Solbar, Brenner said its Chinese business is “growing”. Its focus there is on functional concentrates and textured concentrates.