Saturday, June 30, 2012


Is the food safety situation really bad in China which is aspiring to outpace the United States and become the most powerful nation on earth? If some recent reports are to be believed, Chinese citizens are highly disadvantaged because of a food production system afflicted by malpractices, adulteration and fraud widely prevalent in that country. It appears the citizens are so concerned that they have raised their vigilance to a high level to avoid such dangerous foods and any help to navigate the treacherous food market is eagerly accepted. Recent evolving of an app in Apple's iPhone for accessing to food safety episodes on every day basis has become instant success. Here is a report that peeps into the food scenario in China.

'There's mercury in the baby formula. Cabbages are sprayed with formaldehyde. Gelatin capsules for pills, tens of millions of them, are laced with chromium. Used cooking oil is scooped out of gutters for recycling, right along with the sewage. Accounts of dubious or unsafe food in China are as mesmerizing as they are disturbing — "artificial green peas," grilled kebabs made from cat meat, contaminated chives, chlorine showing up in soft drinks. There have been stories of imitation soy sauce made from hair clippings, ink and paraffin being used to dress up cheap noodles, and pork buns so loaded with bacteria that they glow in the dark. A new investigation by the Chinese magazine Caixin has found that "these publicized food safety scandals represent only a fraction of unsafe food production practices. Hundreds of chemical food additives are pumped into products that Chinese people consume every day." The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported Wednesday that Chinese authorities have discovered 15,000 cases of substandard food so far this year while shutting down 5,700 unlicensed food businesses. Things are so bad that a new iPhone app was recently launched to track food scandals nationwide. The app, which sends out daily updates on the latest outrages, was reportedly downloaded more than 200,000 times in the first week. In 2008, infant formula and other milk products were found to be contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical used to make fertilizer and plastic pipe. Six children died and some 300,000 fell sick. The melamine scandal caused a nationwide panic among parents of young children, and there was a worldwide recall of Chinese products ranging from biscuits to baby formula. Two Chinese milk producers were executed for selling more than 3 million pounds of contaminated milk powder. There were unsettling echoes of that scandal last week when China's largest dairy, Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, found elevated levels of mercury in its infant formula and was forced to recall six months' worth of production. Yili was one of the dairies involved in the 2008 scandal. Milk and dairy safety has become such a sensitive topic in China that some Internet searches about the scandal were reportedly blocked by government censors. Another major milk producer, China Mengniu Dairy, had to destroy large batches of milk in December when government spot checks turned up evidence of aflatoxin, a cancer-causing fungus. Within a day of the news, my colleague Edward Wong reported, people on the Internet "had posted or copied posts on the bad milk nearly four million times." The string of food-safety scandals, especially in the dairy sector, has led to falling share prices — and significant buying opportunities for foreign investors, according to a Reuters report published in the International Herald Tribune. The Danish-Swedish dairy group Arla, for example, said last week that it plans to buy a 6 percent stake in Mengniu. China is already the world's largest formula market, Reuters reported, noting that the country is "expected to overtake the United States as the largest dairy market by 2020." That timeline could be hastened by a possible relaxation of China's so-called one-child policy in 2015".

One thing baffling about the above report is whether this is a new development consequent to the liberalization of Chines economy or was existing even prior to it but never exposed before. The new found economic status of many families due to rapid development during the last two decades has raised the expectations of the population and this could be one of the reasons for demand for safer and better foods. The innovative ability of Chinese fraudsters to camouflage their tinkering of food is to be admired and food technologists can learn a trick or two from them in utilizing the same techniques in improving many existing products or developing new products. How about India? The fraudsters here are in no way inferior to their Chinese counterparts and the classical example is the infamous "milk" made without cows or buffaloes or any other animals!.


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