China food scandal

China’s proliferating food scandals

It has been two years since China’s government, reeling from nationwide outrage over melamine-contaminated baby milk that sickened 300 000 infants and killed at least six, declared food safety a national priority. Since then, it has threatened, raided and arrested throngs of shady food processors — and even executed a couple. But a stomach-turning string of food-safety scandals this year, from recycled buns to contaminated pork, makes it clear that official efforts are falling short.

Despite efforts to create a modern food-safety regimen, oversight remains utterly haphazard, in the hands of ill-trained, ill-equipped and outnumbered enforcers whose quick fixes are even more quickly undone.

“Most of them are working like headless chickens, having no clue what are the major food-borne diseases that need to be addressed or what are the major contaminants in the food process,” said Dr Peter Ben Embarek, a food safety expert with the World Health Organization’s Beijing office.

In recent weeks, China’s news media have reported sales of pork adulterated with the drug clenbuterol, which can cause heart palpitations; pork sold as beef after it was soaked in borax, a detergent additive; rice contaminated with cadmium, a heavy metal discharged by smelters; arsenic-laced soy sauce; popcorn and mushrooms treated with fluorescent bleach; bean sprouts tainted with an animal antibiotic; and wine diluted with sugared water and chemicals.

Even eggs, seemingly sacrosanct in their shells, have turned out not to be eggs at all but man-made concoctions of chemicals, gelatin and paraffin. Instructions can be purchased online, the Chinese media reported.

Scandals are proliferating, in part, because producers operate in a cutthroat environment in which illegal additives are everywhere and cost-effective. Manufacturers calculate correctly that the odds of profiting from unsafe practices far exceed the odds of getting caught, experts say.

China’s explosive growth has spawned nearly half a million food producers, the authorities say, and four-fifths of them employ 10 or fewer workers, making oversight difficult.

China’s iron political controls ensure that no powerful consumer lobby exists to agitate for reform, press lawsuits that punish wayward producers or lobby the government to pay as much attention to consumer safety as it does to controlling threats to its own power.

Instead, like Alice after falling through the rabbit hole, consumers must guess what their food and drink contain.

“Basically, people now feel nothing is safe to eat,” said Sang Liwei, who directs the Beijing office of the Global Food Safety Forum, a private agency. “They don’t know what choices to make. They are really feeling very helpless.”

Chinese consumers may have their hands tied compared with their Western counterparts, but they are increasingly middle-class, well-educated and dismayed by their lack of protection. Even top officials are discomfited….

New York Times: Read more

China food scandalThe recipe of China’s food safety crisis

Tainted melamine milk powder, salted duck eggs containing cancer-causing dyes, artificial honey, fake wine, donkey-hide gelatin, waste oil, sulfur steamed ginseng, plaster tofu, dyed bread…the list goes on.

Sadly, many people estimate that the list will get longer. Every day we worry about the next food time bomb exploding, we just do not know where the site of the blast will be.

In the past, my impression of Chinese enterprises was in copyright fraud, counterfeit brands, later spreading to other areas like toxic toys. The food industry now faces its own serious problem.

Food fraud, like other fraud, plays a harmful role, because it directly threatens the health and safety of consumers. Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan attended the two sessions (the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) in 2011, stating that he felt shameful there have been food safety issues.

So the tragedy continues to unfold. The public is so angry with denunciation and condemnation, but can do little to stop the recklessness of the fraudsters……

People’s Daily Online: Read more