Category Archives: food safety

“Heavy metals pollute a tenth of China’s farmland”

Via Reuters, some news that shouldn’t much surprise anyone:

About one tenth of China’s farmland is polluted by lead, zinc and other heavy metals to “striking” levels exceeding official limits, a government expert said according to reports on Monday.

Wan Bentai, the chief engineer for China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, said a survey of soil pollutants this year found heavy metal from smelter chimneys, water run-off and tailings meant “in total about 10 percent of farmland has striking problems of heavy metal levels exceeding (government) limits,” the Southern Metropolitan Daily reported.

The Chinese government estimates the country has 1.22 million square kilometers of farmland, and says protecting that land is a priority. But many rural areas support smelters and foundries that spill pollution into soil and water supplies.

China’s environment ministry has called for urgent measures to tackle heavy metal poisoning. But Beijing has often failed to match vows to tackle polluters with the resources and will to enforce such demands, and local officials often put growth, revenue and jobs ahead of environmental standards.

And why would Beijing actually try to tackle this one? They’re eating safe food delivered from organic farms, this isn’t really even an issue for them.

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“Journalist Murdered While Covering Illegal Cooking Oil Scandal”

Gutter oil claims another victim. Reporters Without Borders has the details:

Reporters Without Borders is appalled to learn that Li Xiang, a journalist with Luoyang Television in Luoyang (in the eastern province of Henan) who had been following an illegal cooking oil scandal and had written about it in his blog, was stabbed to death yesterday.

“We hope the authorities will carry out a thorough investigation and will seriously consider the possibility that Li was killed in connection with his work as a journalist,” Reporters Without Borders said, offering its condolences to Li’s family and colleagues.

Aged 30, Li was stabbed more than 10 times as he was returning to his home in Luoyang at dawn. He covered social issues and had been following a police investigation into the sale of cooking oil made from residues taken from gutters. His assailants took his laptop and the police are reportedly working on the assumption that the motive for the stabbing was robbery.

The last entry in his blog was about the cooking oil scandal. No Luoyang Television journalist has commented on his murder but bloggers have said they think it is clearly linked to his coverage of the scandal.

Although there have been several cases of physical attacks this year, murders of journalists are very rare in China.

Sun Hongjie (孙虹杰), a reporter for the daily Beijing Chengbao (北疆晨报), died as a result of the head injuries he received in an attack in December 2010. Both the circumstances of the attack and the haste with which the authorities concluded that it was not linked to his work were suspicious. He had been working on sensitive stories including the demolition of housing to make way for new homes for officials.

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“In China, what you eat tells who you are”

Remember the story about Greenpeace China testing in supermarkets and finding enormous problems with tainted vegetables? The Chicago Tribune has the other side of the story:

At a glance, it is clear this is no run-of-the-mill farm: A 6-foot spiked fence hems the meticulously planted vegetables and security guards control a cantilevered gate that glides open only to select cars.

“It is for officials only. They produce organic vegetables, peppers, onions, beans, cauliflowers, but they don’t sell to the public,” said Li Xiuqin, 68, a lifelong Shunyi village resident who lives directly across the street from the farm but has never been inside. “Ordinary people can’t go in there.”

Until May, a sign inside the gate identified the property as the Beijing Customs Administration Vegetable Base and Country Club. The placard was removed after a Chinese reporter sneaked inside and published a story about the farm producing organic food so clean the cucumbers could be eaten directly from the vine.

Elsewhere in the world, this might be something to boast about. Not in China. Organic gardening here is a hush-hush affair in which the cleanest, safest products are largely channeled to the rich and politically connected.

Many of the nation’s best food companies don’t promote or advertise. They don’t want the public to know that their limited supply is sent to Communist Party officials, dining halls reserved for top athletes, foreign diplomats, and others in the elite classes.

“The officials don’t really care what the common people eat because they and their family are getting a special supply of food,” said Gao Zhiyong, who worked for a state-run food company and wrote a book on the subject.

In the western foothills, the exclusive Jushan farm first developed to supply Mao’s private kitchen still operates under the auspices of the state-run Capital Agribusiness Group, providing food for national meetings. A state-owned company, the Beijing 2nd Commercial Bureau, says on its website that it “supplies national banquets and meetings, which have become the cradle of safe food in Beijing.”

The State Council, China’s highest administrative body, has its own supplier of delicacies, down to salted duck eggs.

“We have supplied them for almost 20 years,” said a spokesman at the offices of Weishanhu Lotus Foods, in Shandong province. “Our product cannot be bought in an ordinary supermarket as our volume of production is very little.”

When people ask if the government will clean up the food supply… well, why would they? They’re getting safe food already, and no one is in a position to hold them accountable. It’s like asking if the government will move against corruption. It’s their bread and butter, what could possibly drive them to move against it?

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‘Greenpeace China conducts nationwide pesticide test on supermarket veggies”

A few weeks ago China buzzed with news about KFC apparently reusing cooking oil and using powdered soy milk instead of fresh. The state media was happy to jump on this as proof that foreign companies occasionally do bad things, too, and used it to distract the public from the stream of over-the-top food safety problems that have cropped up here. The newspapers were trying to sell powdered vs fresh as being on the same level as the melamine and industrial chemicals in milk problems that China has had, which strikes me as insane but I guess that’s the point of being a propaganda outlet. Anyway, Chinese Greenpeace tested produce in a number of Chinese cities and stores, and as Shanghaiist reports, the results don’t look good:

Tesco
16 vegetable and fruit samples were taken from Tescos in Beijing and Guangzhou. Among them, 11 were found containing pesticide residues. Six samples contained pesticides that the EU classifiers suspect to be hormone disruptors. Six samples contained pesticides that EU classifies as possibly harmful to unborn babies.
A spinach sample contained pesticide procymidone level 2.99 mg/kg, which exceeds the EU MRL of 0.02 mg/kg by 149 times. The pesticide itself is no longer allowed to be used in EU as it has been classified as a suspected hormone disruptor.
One leafy vegetable sample turned up two kinds of pesticides, methamidophos and monocrotophos, the use of which have been prohibited in China since the beginning of year 2007.
Out of four rice samples taken, one contained 0.02 mg/kg of isoprothiolane pesticide residue, which is above the EU MRL standard. In the EU this product would not be allowed to be sold.

Lotus
We sampled 12 fruit and vegetable samples from stores in Shanghai and Wuhan. Nine samples contained pesticide residues. Seven samples contained pesticides that the EU classifiers suspect to be hormone disruptors. Five contained pesticide residues that EU classifiers suspect may harm unborn babies.
A Chinese leek sample and an eggplant sample contained the pesticide methamidophos, the use of which has been banned since 2007. The pesticide was also found on a rice sample at low levels.

Lianhua, with affiliate stores Hualian and Century Mart
We sampled 22 fruit and vegetable samples from supermarkets in Shanghai, Wuhan and Hangzhou. 15 samples were found to contain pesticide residues. 11 samples contained pesticides that the EU classifiers suspect to be hormone disruptors. Eight contained pesticides the EU classifiers suspect may harm unborn babies.
A Chinese leek sample contained pesticide residue procymidone levels of 1.05 mg/kg. This exceeds the Chinese MRL standard of 0.02 mg/kg. The pesticide residue carbendazim levels of 3.21 mg/kg also exceed the Chinese MRL standard of 2mg/kg. These two pesticides are both categorized by the EU as hormone disruptors. Procymidone is not allowed to be used in the EU.
A leafy vegetable contained the pesticide methamidophos, the use of which has been banned since year 2007.

But you see Nike tried selling a shoe that only had one sole as opposed to the advertised two, so widespread chronically tainted foodstuffs isn’t really a problem.

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“China arrests 2,000 people in food safety crackdown”

BBC has the details. I wonder how many people in total are involved in unsafe food production; I’m pretty sure 2,000 is the tip of the iceberg.

China has arrested 2,000 people and shut down nearly 5,000 businesses in a clampdown on illegal food additives, after a series of food safety scares.

The campaign was launched in April after scandals from glow-in-the-dark meat to buns injected with dye to make them look like a more expensive kind.

Nearly six million food-related businesses have been investigated.

Police have also destroyed a series of “underground” sites for the illegal manufacture of such food products.

A Food Safety Commission statement also said government agencies across the country would continue the drive, and that anyone caught breaking the law would “be severely punished”.

Food safety scandals in China have badly damaged consumer confidence in recent years, particularly in the dairy industry.

The Chinese authorities enacted strict policies to ensure food safety after infant milk formula containing melamine killed at least six babies and made 300,000 children ill in 2008.

The industrial chemical had been added to dairy products to make them seem high in protein.

It led to product recalls across the globe, and further damaged China’s reputation for producing safe and reliable products.

Earlier this year, China’s quality inspection agency shut down nearly half of the country’s 1,176 dairies as part of a campaign to clean up the dairy industry.

We’ll see if this slows down the recent torrent of food safety problems China has witnessed.

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Filed under Beijing does a Good Thing, food safety, regulations

“China to Offer Rewards for Food Safety Informers”

This might work… but I’d bet it’s more likely that it’ll just turn into a huge mess. Via China Digital Times:

“Government departments at all levels must set up dedicated funds for a reward system for reporting on food safety,” the official Xinhua news agency cited a government directive as saying.

Rewards will be paid out if investigations prove the veracity of the tip-offs, it added.

Those who work for people or companies which adulterate food products are especially encouraged to participate, the report said.

Governments must also make sure they protect the identities of the tipsters to prevent “revenge attacks,” and will punish those who slander others with false reports or provide false information to get the rewards, Xinhua added.

First off… this is pretty much the government throwing it’s hands up and saying it just can’t be bothered to do food safety the right way, isn’t it? But sure, crowdsourcing can be a good strategy. I think it runs into problems here considering how tightly money and power are wrapped around each other here. If a report of food adulteration comes in against an operation that has connections to people in the government, or to gangs which in turn have connections to people in the government, or against someone with enough money to bribe the inspectors to look the other way and maybe ‘accidentally’ drop the name of the rat at the same time… then we’re back at square one. And that’s not even getting into the potential for abuse here. Good luck.

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