Last night after posting about Longhorn beetles from China and entering the gun markets of the Khyber Pass, I got to thinking about the Chinese pet foods being laced with melamine. Perhaps it was something I ate or something that Doug or the Aspergers Gentleman wrote during the night, but something was not agreeing with my normally robust ability to eat anything. I wanted to see if there was anything that I consumed from China.
Damn if I did not find a jar of pre-peeled garlic of Chinese origin in my fridge. Food for thought and a post and a prompt googlization found this:
China's food bowl becomes poisoned chalice
SOMETHING was wrong with the babies. The villagers noticed their heads were growing abnormally large while the rest of their bodies were skin and bones. By the time Chinese authorities discovered the culprit — severe malnutrition from fake milk powder — 13 had died.
The scandal, which unfolded three years ago after hundreds of babies fell ill in an eastern Chinese province, became the defining symbol of a broad problem in China's economy. Quality control and product-safety regulation are so poor that people cannot trust the goods on sale.
Until now, the problem has not received much attention outside China but in recent weeks consumers everywhere have been learning about China's safety crisis. Tainted ingredients that originated here made their way into pet food that has killed animals around the world.
Chinese authorities acknowledge the safety problem and have promised repeatedly to fix it, but the disasters keep coming.
Tang Yanli, 45, grand-aunt of a baby who became sick because of the fake milk but eventually recovered, said that even though she now pays more to buy national brands, she remains suspicious. "I don't trust the food I eat," she said.
With China playing an ever-larger role in supplying food and medicine to other countries, recognition of the hazards has not kept up.
By value, China is the world's main exporter of fruit and vegetables, and a major exporter of other food, ranging from apple juice to garlic to sausage casings. But it has been especially poor at meeting international standards.
The US subjects only a small fraction of its food imports to close inspection, but each month rejects about 200 shipments from China, mostly because of concerns about pesticides, antibiotics and misleading labelling. In February, inspectors blocked peas tainted by pesticides, dried plums containing banned additives, pepper contaminated with salmonella and crayfish that were filthy.
Since 2000, some countries have temporarily banned whole categories of Chinese imports. The European Union stopped shipments of shrimp because of banned antibiotics. Japan blocked tea and spinach, citing excessive antibiotic residue. And South Korea banned fermented cabbage after finding parasites.
Chinese authorities, while conceding the country has many safety problems, say other countries' assessments of products are sometimes "not accurate" and have implied the bans may be politically motivated, aimed at protecting domestic companies.
Yet the Government has found that companies have cut corners in virtually every aspect of food production and packaging, including improper use of fertiliser, unsanitary packing and poor refrigeration of dairy products.
William O'Brien, president of Hami Food of Beijing, which transports food for the McDonald's restaurant chain and other multinational companies in China, said in some of his competitors' operations, "chilled and frozen products very often come in taxicabs or in vans … That is something that people should worry about."
Not surprisingly, food-related poisonings are common.
Last year, farmers providing duck eggs were found to have used a red dye so the yolks would look reddish instead of yellow, fetching a higher price. The dye turned out to be a cancer-causing substance. In Shanghai, 300 people were poisoned by a chemical additive in pork.
The Government has undertaken a major overhaul of its monitoring system, sending state inspectors to every province, launching spot inspections at supermarkets, and firing a number of corrupt officials.