Thursday, June 21, 2012

IHT: "From Milk to Peas, a Chinese Food-Safety Mess"

While Japan continues to struggle with radioactive materials (cesium is what's tested) found in food, China doesn't need radioactive materials to contaminate its food supply. All it needs is "creative" "food" producers and distributors/retailers who have no problem selling the "food" items (note the quotation marks around the word "food") like:

Baby formula with mercury;
Cabbages sprayed with formaldehyde;
Recycled cooking oil scooped out of gutters
Soy sauce made from hair clippings;
Pork buns so loaded with bacteria that they glow in the dark
Artificial green peas with food coloring and bleach-like additives

and on and on...

No wonder Hong Kong was the largest importer of Japanese agricultural products and food items before the Fukushima I Nuke Plant accident.

From International Herald Tribune / New York Times (6/21/2012):

HONG KONG — There’s mercury in the baby formula. Cabbages are sprayed with formaldehyde. Gelatin capsules for pills, tens of millions of them, are laced with chromium. Used cooking oil is scooped out of gutters for recycling, right along with the sewage.

Accounts of dubious or unsafe food in China are as mesmerizing as they are disturbing — “artificial green peas,” grilled kebabs made from cat meat, contaminated chives, chlorine showing up in soft drinks.
There have been stories of imitation soy sauce made from hair clippings, ink and paraffin being used to dress up cheap noodles, and pork buns so loaded with bacteria that they glow in the dark.

A new investigation by the Chinese magazine Caixin has found that “these publicized food safety scandals represent only a fraction of unsafe food production practices. Hundreds of chemical food additives are pumped into products that Chinese people consume every day.”
The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported Wednesday that Chinese authorities have discovered 15,000 cases of substandard food so far this year while shutting down 5,700 unlicensed food businesses.

Things are so bad that a new iPhone app was recently launched to track food scandals nationwide. The app, which sends out daily updates on the latest outrages, was reportedly downloaded more than 200,000 times in the first week.

In 2008, infant formula and other milk products were found to be contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical used to make fertilizer and plastic pipe. Six children died and some 300,000 fell sick.
The melamine scandal caused a nationwide panic among parents of young children, and there was a worldwide recall of Chinese products ranging from biscuits to baby formula. Two Chinese milk producers were executed for selling more than 3 million pounds of contaminated milk powder.

There were unsettling echoes of that scandal last week when China’s largest dairy, Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, found elevated levels of mercury in its infant formula and was forced to recall six months’ worth of production. Yili was one of the dairies involved in the 2008 scandal.

Milk and dairy safety has become such a sensitive topic in China that some Internet searches about the scandal were reportedly blocked by government censors.

Another major milk producer, China Mengniu Dairy, had to destroy large batches of milk in December when government spot checks turned up evidence of aflatoxin, a cancer-causing fungus. Within a day of the news, my colleague Edward Wong reported, people on the Internet “had posted or copied posts on the bad milk nearly four million times.”

The string of food-safety scandals, especially in the dairy sector, has led to falling share prices — and significant buying opportunities for foreign investors, according to a Reuters report published in the International Herald Tribune. The Danish-Swedish dairy group Arla, for example, said last week that it plans to buy a 6 percent stake in Mengniu.

China is already the world’s largest formula market, Reuters reported, noting that the country is “expected to overtake the United States as the largest dairy market by 2020.” That timeline could be hastened by a possible relaxation of China’s so-called one-child policy in 2015.

From the Reuters report:

“To be a minority shareholder in a food company in China, regardless of the quality of your partner, you’re still exposed to the supply chain,” said David Mahon, a dairy consultant and head of Mahon China Investment Management, referring to the Arla-Mengniu deal. “The lesson from melamine would not have been learned, and that would be a pity.”

The private equity firms Hopu, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Carlyle Group all took stakes in Chinese dairy companies in 2008 and 2009.

Hopu is winding down its fund and got out as soon as it could, but K.K.R. and Carlyle have invested in technology and production systems to bring Western-style milk production to Chinese dairies, including imported cows.“China woke up to its food safety problems with the entrance of multinational companies,” the Caixin report says. “Fast-food giants McDonald’s and KFC were among the first violators caught by media in 2005, when ‘tony red,’ a toxic chemical was found in fried chicken.”

Wal-Mart is another company that has recently had its share of food-quality problems in China.
“A scandal over mislabeled pork led to the closure of stores and the resignation of the country head,” the BBC reported, and the Food Safety Administration in Beijing said in March that a Wal-Mart store in the capital had “sold sesame oil and squid with dangerous amounts of cancer-causing chemicals.”

In April, the police in China arrested nine people, shut down 80 production lines and seized more than 77 million pill capsules contaminated with chromium.

In March, “artificial green peas” were discovered in Hunan Province. Shriveled peas were being reconstituted by soaking them in food coloring and bleach-like chemical additives.

“The peas were an unnatural color and had a penetrating odor,” said a local newspaper report cited by China Daily. “After 20 minutes of cooking, the peas did not turn soft but the water turned green.”
In 2010, the government issued health alerts about recycled cooking oil. It seems used oil was being scooped from gutters outside hot-pot restaurants and then reprocessed — right along with bits of sewage. My colleague David Barboza reported from Shanghai that investigators began hunting down illegal oil-recycling factories and naming found to be using the iffy oil.

China recently issued a new five-year food-safety plan that intends to simplify a welter of overlapping and contradictory regulations. The plan acknowledges that China is “still suffering from the absence of several major food safety regulations.”

Meanwhile, as the Caixin report concludes, “Regulatory standards have not been able to keep up with the ingenuity of food manufacturers.”

(H/T John Noah)


TechDud said...

I will not buy any food from China, whatsoever.
Now i have to figure out which ones are mislabeled from another country, as there are so many "creative" distributors and packagers.
Many more never reveal the true origin of products.
I'm boycotting those, too. Wall-mart can kiss my ass.

When two US spy-plane pilots were held as "guests", people protested in stores by bringing notes declaring the boycott of Chinese goods until the airmen were returned. Cashiers relayed these notes to management and eventually ownership, etc. Sales dramatically dropped & the Chinese soon bid a hasty farewell to their "guests". (sorry i have no reference & no more time to find now)

TechDud said...

"Finnish up your peas Johnny, you won't grow up big and strong smelling and able to see in the dark, if you don't. Do you want that? See, your sister's already glowing; she finished her peas."

"But i want the pig's foot instead; give me the one with the nail in it."


Anonymous said...

For those of us in Japan it's darned if you do, darned if you don't. My wife and I have been buying more Chinese food products to avoid domestic Japanese ones due to potential Fukushima contamination.

So it seems our options are melamine, aflatoxin, chromium, bacteria, or cesium ...


Anonymous said...

This article should keep the Japanese happy for a while, China is a whipping boy in Japan and someone to point the finger at which takes the spotlight away from their own radioactive food chain in Japan...

Anonymous said...

The melamine debacle was the tipping point here. Skew the protein content by adding something used as a veneer on particle board. Poison your own children, other peoples children and cats and dogs. Not consuming anything made in China since then. It is a challenge facing everyone in this "global economy". Down the road we will no doubt revisit these issues with the GMO titan Monsanto.

Got milk?

Where does the effluent from all this progress go?
Can we bring Dan Qualye back to explain again the benefits of gene splicing in the food chain?
Having tomatoes with a shelf life of forever was a great improvement.
One small step for man, one giant leap....
rant over

no6ody said...

China is a *huge* country. Imagine taking all the food safety 'incidents' in the US and multiplying the number by about 4.5 or so, and then see what the Chinese press has to say about it. LOL! Dioxin eggs, contaminated meat, food poisoning epidemics--and multinational corps that care only for money, and multinational media corpse that are no better.

Best hopes for better people and fewer corpse.

Anonymous said...

As with all things in life, it is not wise to stereotype something just because there are some instances of misdeeds. Probably the majority of food produced in China is safe to consume, but there will be some that are not. That is the same thing in all parts of the world. China may be worse, and that just means they need to do better at catching, punishing, and publicizing corruption in food production.

For example, in the U.S. between 100,000 to 200,000 people die each year from taking prescription medicines in compliance with all instructions given, yet we don't see people saying they will boycott prescription drugs because some are unsafe. (Although, truth be told, all prescription drugs are inherently risky because they call cause side effects.)

TechDud said...

"You are what you eat" -

Think of this on an epigenetic level. I wonder the effect on mitochondrial epigenetics.


I am reminded that 60% of fallout ingestion can come from contaminated water. The simplest form of water purification (please confirm before using this method - i'm no expert) is to dig down into a clay layer and collect some in a clean bucket and lid. Fill other cleaned buckets with suspect water. Agitate a measured amount of clay into each bucket. Cover each bucket and allow the clay to settle out over 24 hours. Draw water from the top of the bucket with a clean siphon & filter until slightly less that half full (do NOT disturb the sediment). Reverse osmosis could be used in addition. Beware that the sediments should be likely be considered as hot waste, same with used filters.

People getting together to ensure clean water for others could help improve the moral of people by by getting them active against the radioactive enemy. I would love to see the farmers activated in a crucial role. Watching the devastation live during the tsunami last year had me in tears. As each visible row of farmland was taken, i noted how neat and well-tended (much was weed-free) each was whether with plastic tunnels, or not.
My hopes and prayers are for the good people of Japan.

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