Food Safety in China: Is the Worst Behind Us?

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white rabbit.jpgIn recent years, a significant number of alarming incidents concerning food safety have taken place in China. These events have reflected that presently China still has numerous problems with food safety, such as food industry management flaws, supervision lags, and inefficient law enforcement.

The following are some of the most glaring food safety scandals that have occurred during the last three years.

  • Several domestic milk manufacturers are involved in a high-profile melamine contamination scandal. Thousands of babies and infants nationwide are affected
  • Man-made jujube appears in the Urumqi market, infused with soluble saccharin and sodium cyclamate liquid in order to make them taste better
  • Big White Rabbit toffee, a famous Chinese candy brand, is found to contain formaldehyde and other deleterious substances in the Philippines
  • Longfeng and Sinian, two famous frozen food companies, are found to have made products that contain pathogenic bacteria
  • In Beijing, 70 people who ate snails are confirmed to be affected with thelaziasis
  • In Wuhan, Hubei, man-made honey syrup is found to have been injected with many kinds of chemicals such as thickening agents, sweetening agents, antiseptics etc.
  • A batch of pork from Zhejiang poisons 336 people in Shanghai due to high amounts of thin carnosine
  • In Yangjiang, all Jiudu fish samples from 7 big agricultural markets are found to contain the antiseptic formaldehyde at ten times higher than the permitted level
  • Some red yolk salty duck eggs produced by a Hebei plant is found to contain tonyred, which improves the colour of the food

These concerns are not merely isolated incidents of negligence or malfeasance, but are closely tied to China’s model of economic development. The dynamic environment of the Chinese economic miracle of the last 30 years is key to understanding these food safety problems. For more than twenty years, China has enjoyed a rapid pace of economic growth, and we can observe a situation where the development of China's legal system has lagged behind the country’s fast economic development. Thus China's not yet fully developed legal framework has limited laws to refer to, or even if these exist, they are mostly out of date.

In addition, since overall social wealth and accumulation of individual wealth are still relatively low in China, social responsibility is not yet fully developed. China’s growing gap between rich and poor, moreover, contributes to the problem, resulting in large numbers of people desperate for instant success and potentially open to the crooked incentives of secretly tampering with food quality.

While there can never be an excuse for deliberate malfeasance with food (or any) products, the issues raised above can serve to contextualize food safety problems in China. The outlook is changing, however, and the Chinese government has stepped up formal regulation efforts to prevent food safety scandals. The latest government initiative was announced on 28 February, when China’s top legislature approved the Food Safety Law, providing a legal basis to strengthen food safety control from the production line to the dining table. The law, which goes into effect on June 1 2009, will enhance monitoring and supervision, tighten safety standards, recall substandard products and severely punish offenders.

Still, there can be no guarantees that food safety problems are completely in the past, yet hopefully most of them are.

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lol. The pic reminds me my childhood. I wish quality control department do their job effectively

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