Editor’s note: In recent years, China has experienced a large outbreak of food safety incidents with some of the most famous companies and most common products exposed. In response, and bearing in mind that the chinadialogue’s bloggers have written extensively about food safety, we are launching a fortnightly food safety news summary – “Who touched my food?” – a feature dedicated to tracking food-safety issues and pushing for an end to underhand methods in the food sector. Careless people are also somewhat of a safety concern. Additional information from readers is welcomed.
The first phase of news collection, April 17 – 30:
April 17, Legal Daily: 40 tonnes of bean sprouts containing non-food addititves were seized in Shenyang. Following this, Shenyang government organised a special meeting, at which the departments of commerce, quality supervision, agriculture and others all denied the problem was their responsibility.
April 21, Guangzhou Daily: 16 tonnes of pork were found in Guangzhou containing borax (a chemical banned in food in China as it is poisonous to humans – as little as five grams can be fatal for a child) used for disguising the meat as beef. The amount of fake beef involved in this case exceeded 16,000 kilograms.
April 22, Southern Weekend: in a primary school in Yulin, Shaanxi Province, 277 students became ill after drinking Mengniu milk, with symptoms including nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting.
April 24, Guangzhou Daily: the sinister adding of black ink and paraffin wax to sweet potatoes was uncovered in a factory in Guangzhou. Documents required by the factory were destroyed, the boss protested his innocence.
April 27, Nanfang Daily: in Guangzhou, pig meat marinated in highly toxic pesticides was seized at a workshop that has been operating for many years. “Problem bacon” has entered a number of farmers’ markets in Baiyun District and also a nearby supermarket chain, Trust-Mart, in Zhangjiang City.
April 29, Chongqing Evening News: Chongqing police uncovered a vast amount of peppers coated in a dye, some of which has been used as hotpot seasoning. Inspection of the substance resulted in the detection of Rhodamine B, which is carcinogenic and mutagenic and, if eaten, can cause malignant tumours under the skin. Its use as a food additive is explicitly prohibited.
April 29, Qilu Evening News: two journalists working undercover in Jinan barbecue restaurants found two outlets “recycling” leftover food collected from the tables.
April 29, Southern Metropolis Daily: a reporter found in Guangzhou’s Yellow Sand Fish Market some people reselling dead frogs. Some of them smelt rotten and were stripped of their skin after being taken to the table.
April 29, Jinan Daily: a press survey found that supermarkets in Jinan were fraudulently selling honey mixed with fructose syrup.
Comments: On May 1, 2011 China’s Criminal Law Amendment (no. 8) initiated the improvement of criminal sentencing for breaking standards of food safety. Food safety crimes will have a minimum sentence: those responsible for causing death or other particularly serious circumstances will face a minimum of 10 years imprisonment, life imprisonment or death. The increase in sentencing appears to demonstrate the government’s determination to punish those committing food safety crimes. But remembering the awkward incidents relating to school milk, where government and business denied there was a problem, I am afraid that heavy penalties are just token gestures.