Scandal puts food safety on agenda
ASIA BRIEFING: DURING A visit to Beijing last week, EU agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos was exploring food safety, of prime importance in China and even cited as a potential threat to the government.
Witness the outpouring of online anger last week after China’s biggest milk producer by revenue, Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, recalled baby formula tainted with what it described as “unusual” levels of mercury.
China’s product quality watchdog detected the mercury in several batches of Yili baby formula, which is sold nationwide. Irony of ironies, the recall took place during China’s Food Safety Week and a day after the cabinet introduced fresh measures to tighten supervision of the sector.
The dairy industry in China is struggling to restore consumer confidence after a raft of scandals, the worst of which was shortly after the Olympics in 2008 when milk laced with an industrial chemical killed at least six children and made nearly 300,000 sick.
Twenty-two companies were found to have sold formula made from milk contaminated with melamine. The government executed two people involved in the scandal.
It also set up a food safety commission led by vice premier Li Keqiang. He has called for harsh punishments against violations of food safety laws.
In December, products from Mengniu dairy company were destroyed after they were found to contain aflatoxin, which can cause severe liver damage.
During his visit here, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney repeatedly stressed how Irish producers could develop international business opportunities on the basis of our strong reputation for quality, sustainability and, the magic word, safety.
Meanwhile, China’s astronauts are being fed “specially produced” milk, where the cows are first quarantined for a month to allow all drugs in their bodies to be excreted, before producing milk specifically for the astronauts.