Will China ever fully clean up its food supply chain?

15 May

The recent rat meat scandal in China is the latest in a long line of food scandals in the country. This most recent episode involved criminal gangs selling off rat meat as Lamb, with at least one gang using chemicals to try and change the appearance of the rat meat. Over 900 people have been detained in relation to the most recent food scandal, including 63 people in and around Shanghai who are reported to have run an illegal operation that involved buying rat and other untested meat and processing it with additives and selling it off as lamb. Authorities in Zhejiang province have recently posted a guide on how to tell the difference between real mutton and faker mutton to try and combat the issue.
Food scandals are not unusual in China, with reports of farmers drenching vegetables in pesticides, cattle being given steroids, and questionable food being certified as safe not uncommon. Add this to the 2008 formula scandal which involved several babies dying and hundreds being hill having drunk contaminated formula, together with the egg dyeing scandal (where a harmful chemical was used for food dyes in eggs) and it’s easy to come to the assumption that these scandals are simply part of the Chinese food supply chain and always will be. However, earlier this year the Ministry of Public Security embarked on a 3 month-crackdown on food safety which resulted in the 900 arrests mentioned above. Furthermore, China’s Supreme Court called for more severe punishments for people involved in food scandals and that a review of the current laws on food safety is needed. Could these recent developments signal the beginning of the end for China’s food scandals?



One Response to “Will China ever fully clean up its food supply chain?”

  1. ags2g09 May 15, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

    This article raises a quite shocking issue; for a developed country such as China to be plagued with problems such as these is astounding. The future of China is most often spoken of in terms of the economy or politics, but surely what is most concerning to the ‘normal’ citizens are the social issues – of which one is definitely the provision of safe food.

    Issues such as those raised in this article will surely only serve to cause the new Chinese government problems – Xi Jinping is continually referring to the pursuit of a ‘China dream’, but these continued culinary revelations must be paradoxically leaving him living in some sort of nightmare. It is true that, taken alone, the most recent scandal could simply be brushed off as a normal, rare occurrence – recently in the UK the issue of Tesco selling horse meat branded as beef exemplifies this. However, when one adds all the scandals together, it is clear that there are challenges facing the credibility of a new regime that claims it has its people’s interests at heart – the job of protecting welfare seems to be being done rather poorly.

    The article suggests that calls from the Chinese Supreme Court to tighten up food selling guidelines might go some way to solving the issue. However, in my view it does not – the decisions of the Supreme Court have no bearing on political action and even if they did, only 1,533 cases were brought before the court between 2010-12 – a number that looks actually rather small considering the scale of the problem. This lack of strength is causing people to take to the streets – there were an estimated 150,000 protests last year alone, and the rise of social media is allowing news of scandals to spread faster than ever before – the Pew Institute, who carry out an annual survey of popular attitudes, reported that a record 41% of those questioned were concerned with food safety in China – compared with only 12% five years ago. The most alarming thing about those figures is that they were taken BEFORE the most recent ‘rat meat dressed as lamb’ scandals.

    These issues might seem comical, but they could cause real problems for the Chinese government, since even a party that doesn’t rely on democracy to hold office requires the support of the people to retain any substantial influence. Thus, in my view, it is essential that the new leadership do something to address these issues, alongside the more weighty goal of strengthening the nation – it might be that both are just as troublesome as each other.

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