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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Is It Safe To Eat Or Drink Anything In China?

This morning at DWT we tried to make the point that the very nature of commerce in China-- in Asia really-- is built on fraud and corruption. Reactionary American politicians like Pat Toomey (R-PA), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and John Boehner (R-OH) admire China so much-- Communism or not-- because their financial and commercial system embodies the very depths of caveat emptor taken to the extreme. In two weeks I'll be back in China and, I have to admit, I know I have to be warier than in most places about what I consume. What's in the bottled water? How safe is it to eat in a restaurant, even a highly rated one?

So it was with some interest that I noted yesterday that China will be handing out the death penalty for food safety violators. An announcement like that presupposes some real problems that need to be addressed. Their highest court has ordered lower court judges to toughen up the sentences for people violating food safety standards "amid deepening public concerns over the country's food safety following a wave of recent scandals." If someone dies because of food safety violations, the death penalty is now in order-- and government officials taking bribes to protect the criminals will also be facing harsher penalties.
From milk laced with melamine, pigs fed with performance-enhancing drugs to watermelons juiced up with growth-stimulating chemicals, a series of recent scandals have outraged Chinese consumers, despite ramped-up government crackdown and state media campaign against food safety violations.

From last September to April this year, Chinese courts have tried and convicted 106 people accused of violating food safety, including two who received life imprisonment last month in a "melamine milk" case, Xinhua reported.

As vegan as I can be-- especially when traveling in dodgy countries-- I'm not worried about being fed dog meat disguised as something else. Although others probably should be.
Authorities say a battle has been escalating in China between the country's dog lovers and those who consider the animals a mealtime feature.

The controversy is more evidence of China's changing social landscape, where dog meat has been a coveted food item for centuries but pet ownership has burgeoned in recent years as a booming economy created a middle class with both money and time for four-legged friends, the Washington Post reported Saturday. ... China has no laws against cruelty to animals, and animal activists estimate as many as 10 million dogs, some strays and some stolen pets are sold for human consumption each year.

But I am interested in the new organic food movement started to sprout up in China's cities. Can it be trusted? Maybe...
In recent years China has been hit by a number of food scandals and fears about safety have lingered. In 2008, 300,000 babies became seriously ill and six babies died after being given formula contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine. In April this year, police seized 40 tons of beansprouts which had been treated with dangerous growth promoting chemicals and hormones, while this month, watermelons started exploding in the fields because they had been treated with too much accelerant.

In March health officials discovered pork that glowed and iridescent blue in the dark because it had been contaminated by a bacteria.

Amid the scares it was reported that China's government departments were running their own organic farms to feed staff, sparking criticism that officials were putting their own safety before that of the people. ... [O]rganic farmers and a host of co-operative schemes that lease small parcels of land to urbanites who want to feel the soil under their fingernails-- not unlike British allotment schemes-- report business is suddenly booming.

Peng Xunan, the founder of the "Farmlander" allotment scheme that has 200 sites across China said the plots were being rented in ever-growing numbers, and no longer just be pensioners looking to occupy their time.

"I'd say it was split three ways between families who want to teach their children where food comes from, older people in their retirement, but in recent months definitely a growing number worried about food safety concerns after all these reports of lax food safety," he said.

Interestingly, the other China-- Taiwan-- is having a similar situation, with legislators urging tougher penalties for tainted food and better regulations for factories manufacturing food products, particularly sports drinks, juices, tea drinks, fruit jam or syrups, tablets or powders, all of which have been found to be poisoned with plasticizers.
A legislator of the ruling Kuomintang proposed yesterday to revise regulations to levy stiffer penalties on suppliers of food products that threaten consumers' health, establish an information system for all products, and change the listing of plasticizers in the second category of toxic chemical products.

...Chang pointed out that the current law only stipulates fines between NT$60,000 and NT$300,000 for using plasticizers like carcinogen di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or other toxic substances in food and beverages, not enough to deter unconscionable food processors and suppliers from harming consumers.

An integrated registration mechanism should be set up to record all information concerning raw materials, components, additives, manufacturing and packaging to help manage every step of the food and beverage supply chain, Chang said.

Such a product identity system will also help to track products, he added.

Oh-- and the crackdown and regulations... that's not what Toomey, Johnson and Boehner admire about China.

1 comment:

Marc Geller said...

Just back from China. Traveled with a vegan who did fine, except when he thought he bought "red tofu." Wanna know what it was? Stumbled upon a vegan bakery in Shanghai!