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Removing chemicals from our food

Recent studies show that food safety in China still needs improvement. Organic production is the answer, argues Jiang Gaoming. Here he explains how to make the shift.

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Environmental group Greenpeace recently tested vegetables purchased in supermarkets and markets in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou at a government-authorised independent laboratory in Qingdao. Traces of agricultural chemicals were found in 40 of the 45 samples that were tested, with a total of 50 different chemicals identified – five of which are classified by the World Health Organisation as highly toxic. One strawberry bought at a Beijing Wal-Mart contained 13 different agricultural chemicals.

This was not an isolated incident. Beijing Industrial and Commercial Bureau recently found levels of sulphites in seafood products produced by a well-known Hangzhou company that breached safety standards; a substandard batch of products has already been taken off the shelves. According to the National Business Daily, products from another four firms also failed to pass tests due to excessive levels of sulphites, sodium cyclamate, saccharin sodium and benzoic acid.

In the past two years alone, we have witnessed scandals over tainted pork and melamine-contaminated milk. People have lost their faith in food; they can only ask what there is left to eat.

To find chemicals in vegetables comes as no surprise, but the degree to which they were detected is shocking. And it is easy to identify these substances through testing, so how is it that they end up in the food chain? As a long-time observer of the food industry, I believe the following factors are to blame.

First, producers are only that: they are producers. They do not consume their own products. Farmers do not eat the vegetables they grow; they are sold to others. Chicken and pig farmers do not eat the meat they produce; they buy more trustworthy products at the market. But what if everyone thought that way? There is a joke about a vegetable farmer and a pig farmer who eat together: the former only eats the pork, the latter prefers to stick to the vegetables. Farmers do not use chemicals and fertilisers on the foods they grow for their own consumption. Farmers would be too ashamed to use their farmed chickens to feed their guests; they only sell those birds to the cities. But if you live in a city, you do not have a choice.

Second, higher quality products are more expensive to produce, and retailers are not interested. Agricultural authorities class products as organic, green, environmentally-friendly or standard; large differences in the cost of production are reflected in retail prices. A lack of oversight means that many products labelled “organic” or “green” are not what they purport to be. This means the costs are lower, but the profits are higher – so plenty of retailers are willing to play along, including large supermarkets.

Third, consumers cannot test products and can do nothing to control pesticide use. The new food-safety law allows consumers to claim up to 10 times the cost of a product in compensation if they discover it to be harmful, but consumers are unlikely to spend large amounts of money on third-party testing for the sake of a small reward. Consumers are clearly the weaker party in this transaction; they simply buy what the supermarket sells. The only hope is for the authorities to provide protection.

Fourth, there are major failings in agricultural production methods. Pesticides, fertilisers, herbicides, additives and agricultural membranes are the conventional weapons of modern agriculture. Now the authorities have popularised a new addition to the arsenal: genetically modified food. Out-of-season crops increase the levels of chemicals in foods. Intensive animal farming brings poultry to market in 28 to 45 days, pigs in 10 to 16 weeks. This battle against biology means our food is full of chemicals, hormones and additives.

Fifth, oversight is weak and unable to deal with food pollution at its source. Small-scale farming and numerous retail channels mean supervising food quality is problematic. Currently, testing is carried out at supermarkets and markets. But by that point the chemicals and additives are already in the food, and only a minority of products are taken off the shelves – the majority slip through the net. To keep the locals happy, local government play down major events and do not even report the small ones. Supervision by ordinary people is necessary to keep chemicals out of our food.

Sixth, scientists are not doing a good enough job. The confusing profusion of chemicals and additives is a new development. Scientists deliberately exaggerate the positive effects of their inventions and play down the negative impacts. Melamine was the “masterpiece” of a scientist without enough of a conscience. Yet the work of many chemists, biologists and agricultural scientists is focused on food production.

It would not be difficult to do away with the chemicals and adopt organic farming; the difficulty is getting a good price for good produce when our very food is traded by merchants who compete on cost. Relying on fines is inadequate: we need systems that supervise producers; that let consumers know where their food is sourced; and that allow third-party certification, with strict annual checks. Consumers should bear the costs of food produced in a healthy environment, in a voluntarily, market environment. If the number of genuinely organic products on the market were to increase, so would the demand for organic products.

We need food safety, and safe food must be produced in a healthy environment. We must gradually do away with chemicals, fertilisers, herbicides, agricultural membrane and genetically modified food. The costs and labour involved can be recovered through the sale of premium-priced organic foods, thus restoring the ever-deteriorating rural environment.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

谁来支持?

嗯...人们经常告诉我在喝茶之前要先将茶洗一洗。有时候我买有机茶,但它通常会更昂贵些。我试着从望京购物超市里买天方牌的茶。虽然这种茶的宣传语和味道都不错,也不怎么昂贵,但却极难在其他商店买到。我经常在本地超市买所谓的有机茶。但它们身上无标签,产商也没有什么来证明茶的产地。那时,这些也并未占据市场的大部分分额。
COSCO甚至已经开始进行一个关于油产品的非转基因销售宣传。这应该是在显出食品与饮料产品对深谙世故的消费者们变得逐渐敏感。我最近去过一个更高档的餐馆,它三十页的菜单里有足足九十种不同的菜肴,但仅有一种是源自有机原料。
让我更为吃惊的是,超市以及本地市场不能保证它们食品的质量。那谁又能希望路边摊上的食物是有机的?市场外的购物车么?有机食品需要宣传与普及,我是如此赞同。但到底谁会来做这件事?什么时候它会触犯人们舒服习惯了的程式?
此评论由Hotstepper发表。
(此篇由刘雅晴翻译)

Who's support?

Hmmm. I'm often told to wash tea once (before drinking it). Sometimes I buy organic tea, but it's usually the more expensive type. I try to buy Tianfang (天方)from the Hualian supermarket in Wangjing. Yet, though they seem to make an excellent sales pitch, isn't costly, has a finer taste, I can barely find it in other stores. I often buy the so-called organic teas in the local markets. But they don't have a label on them, and the owners don't keep anything to prove to me where it's from. Then, these don't make up a large proportion of the market.
COSCO have even started doing a non-GM selling promotion on oil, which ought to show that food and beverage production is becoming more sensitive to sophisticated consumers.
I was in a more upmarket restaurant recently with a 30-page menu containing maybe 90 different dishes, but only one that was sold on being organic. I was taken aback to see even that.
Supermarkets and local markets cannot ensure the quality of their food. Then what hope that food at roadside stallls will be organic? The carts outside markets? Organic food needs popularizing, I so agree. But who'll do this exactly? When it will tread on so many toes? By: Hotstepper.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

自家的菜园子

我看到,在老家农村,很多人家都是自家种菜吃的,从不去市场上买蔬菜;他们不是没钱买不起菜吃,相反,越是日子过得好的人家,家里的主妇越是重视收拾自家的菜地,充分利用着有限的空间种着豆角、黄瓜、茄子和西红柿等。三天两头的,就能看到妈妈领着孩子忙着给菜地浇水。

Vegetable garden for oneself

I perceived that in my hometown village many people is cultivating vegetables for themselves, they never buy vegetables at the marketplace; it’s not because they can’t afford buy, but on the contrary - many of them live the good life, even housewives are taking more care of family’s vegetable plot, using to the full extent limited space to grow beans, cucumbers, eggplants, tomato etc. Almost every day I can see mothers making children water the crops.

Translated by Katarzyna Wachowska

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

有机农业

不让在田里用除草剂、不让用化肥的话,那么产量肯定会大大下降的。对于那些依靠种菜为生的菜农来说,这显然是无法接受的。

从长远来看,所谓的有机农业,充其量是供一部分有钱人享用的,而多数的普通人,则是消受不起的。

Organic Farming

Crop yields will drop sharply without the use of herbicides and fertilizer, an unacceptable consequence to farmers who rely on growing vegetables to make a living.

In the long term, so-called "organic food" is at best a luxury for a few rich people. As for the general public, frankly, we cannot afford it.

Translated by Tian Liang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

速成的鸡真吓人

这个“动物速成班”说的很形象啊。我曾去一家养鸡户家里参观过,很受震撼。在院子的四周,一排排的鸡笼整整齐齐地排列着。那些承载着主人希望的肉鸡们,大多安安静静地躺着,没有争先恐后地叫个不停。它们的任务只有一个:那就是不停的吃。在院子里,还有几只散放的鸡在慢腾腾地走着。有的鸡正走着就突然摔倒了,因为腿太细了,已经无法支撑整个身体的重量。

battery farmed chicken is really scary

This is a very vivid description of factory farming. I once visited the home of a chicken farmer and was utterly shocked. Hencoops were arrayed in packed rows around the edge of a courtyard. The chickens lie still in complete silence without any of the usual crowing and noise you'd expect. Their sole purpose in life is to eat constantly. In the centre of the yard, a few loose chickens were sluggishly wandering around. Some of them just fell over while trying to walk -- their legs were too thin to carry the weight of their bodies.
(Translated by Liu Yaqing)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

mk1020

因为环境不断被人破坏,于是就有了大量的害虫,就有无限量的农药(在中国)被使用,于是我们就不得不分享大量的农药。因为有人想要赚钱,于是有了更无耻的种养方法,就有了说不清的害人食品,就有更多的医院,更多的火葬场,更多的墓地。国为有不负责任的监管部门、大量的污染得不到不治理,大量的违法食品涌入市场,于是就大量的非正常死亡接踵而至。

mk1020

Cause growing fragile environment, all kinds of pests come into existance, pesticides were used widely,so,we have to "enjoy" these chemical substances now. To make money,people use shameful cultivation methods,and provide tainted food; more hospitals,more crematoriums,and more graveyards; Cause irresponsible governmental departments,the pollution havn't been controlled, illeagal food flows into market,the usual death incidents come one after another.

Translatede by Tian Liang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

记得削皮

以前在吃苹果、桃子、梨这些带皮的水果时,我都是直接用水洗洗就吃了,现在我决心,一定要先削皮。虽然那些果皮含有丰富的维生素,但我可不想自己慢性中毒而死。
还有,在家里做饭时,也别忘了给茄子、西葫芦啥的削皮。

Remember to peel

I used to just wash things like apples, peaches and pears before eating them. Now, however, I've made up my mind to peel them as well. Even if the skins might be full of vitamins, I don't want to die a slow death from poisoning.

When you're cooking at home, don't forget those aubergines and squashes need peeling too.

Translated by Tian Liang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

道高一尺,魔高一丈

同意5号。农药喷得越多,连害虫都有了抗药性,怎么办?开发毒性更大的农药,但我们别忘了,这些小东西的生命力是很顽强的。比起它们,人类对于自己的适应能力只能是自愧不如。
关键是,到最后,这颗滥用农药的苦果是要我们来吞下的。

While the priest climbs a post, the devil climbs ten.

I agree with NO.5. The more pesticide sprayed, the stronger pests' drug resistance gets. So what next? Well, we could start making even more toxic pesticides. But remember, they're resilient little buggers. Next to them, we can only hang our head in shame over our own capacity to adapt.

The fact that we use too much pesticide is a bitter pill that we're going to have to swallow in the end.

Translated by Tian Liang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

农超对接

在中国,不管是肉、禽、蛋,还是蔬菜、水果,这些食品原料都是由分散的农户供应的,然后运到农贸市场上,在个体摊贩与消费者之间进行交易。这种分散生产与农贸市场交易的现实,决定了对食品安全进行监管的困难性。

像沃尔玛等一些大型超市实施的“农超对接”能大大缓解上述的现实困境,通过建立农产品直购基地的形式,让农民按照绿色、有机的方式进行生产。从长期来看,这样不仅环保、健康,而且能节省流通成本,使商家受惠。

super-agricultural docking

In China,most food ingredients, including meat, poultry, egg, fruit and vegetables, are all suplied by the highly scattered peasants. The ingredients are then carried to the farmers' Markets where transactions would be done between a lot of vendors and customers. The scattered production model and numerous retail channels mean supervising food quality is problematic. “Super-agricultural docking” implemented by some large-scale supermarkets like WAL-MART can greatly relieve the problem mentioned above. The agricultural production methods of organic and green will be possible by setting up bases for producing or processing agricultural products.In the long term, the modern circulation system of agricultural products could be both environmental and healthy,and also can reduce the circulation cost of agricultural products.Concequently, implement the programme will benefit more enterprises.
(translated by Lei Wang.)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

有机了,谁吃得起

都有机了,老百姓还怎么活,哪吃得起,有机是一个长远的话题,不能急功近利,不要因为您有钱可以买健康,没钱的人呢,要逐步用其他的低成本的东西告别农药、化肥,例如转基因的抗虫抗病、高氮、磷利用率的品种等等,这才是目前最重要的解决之道

Organic Food, Who Can Afford It?

If all food was organic, how would normal people get by, who'd be able to afford it? Organic food is a long- term topic, and you can't just look to make a quick buck, shouldn't make healthy food the preserve of the wealthy- what of the poor? Other low- cost things should gradually be used to part ways with pesticide and fertilizer, such as transgenic crops with disease and pest- resistant properties, crop strains with a high capacity to use nitrogen and phosphorus, and so on. It is only these which are the most important ways to a solution at present.