China has lately emerged as the capital of food frauds and the citizens there seem to be losing confidence on their government in reining in rampant food adulteration and similar practices. Though the authoritarian regime there can punish any one for even expressing dissident views, food criminals seem to be operating without any fear or retribution. This may be due to collusion of powerful bureaucrats with these unsocial elements. It may be difficult to remove this impression unless the food safety monitoring system gains the confidence of the consumers. Recent initiatives in a city like Shangai to set up a "secret" force to catch fraudulent food sellers
may help in creating the right conditions for creating consumer confidence. Here is the report.
"Under the control of the police bureau, the team will bring together law enforcement officers from government bodies and train new personnel, said Bai Shaokang, vice mayor and director of Shanghai Public Security Bureau. "We need a zero-tolerance attitude to food safety criminals," Bai told legislators. He said this will drive improvements in food safety management and help build a unified food safety network. A total of 416 suspects in food safety cases were detained in 137 cases in Shanghai last year — up 49 percent on 2012, said Yan Zuqiang, director of the Shanghai Food Safety Office. "The city's police authority has begun collaborating with the office to jointly crack down on cases" Yan told the congress. Yan said the overall food safety rate in the city was 94 percent last year, up 1.5 percent on 2012's figure. But some lawmakers were sceptical of this figure, while concerns were also raised that punishments for food safety breaches were too light. Currently, the fine for committing food safety offences is 2,000 yuan (US$330) if the value of products involved is less than 10,000 yuan, said lawmaker Xu Liping. "The value of a steamed bun is small but the consequences of eating a bad steamed bun can be enormous," Xu said.
It is good that the authorities in Shangai is waking up to the reality and are grasping the dangers posed by a plethora of fraudsters putting in danger the health of the citizens. Presence of adulterated food products in the market can be easily detected if the perpetrators are located through secret investigators without the knowledge of the traders. Ultimately the consumer will repose confidence on the system only if the extent of sub-standard and unsafe foods in the market comes down dramatically through government vigilance. It will be interesting to watch the result of this Chinese experiment and if effective other cities in many developing countries can have special squads of intelligence staff to detect food related crimes.