Asia Briefing: Latest food scare bolsters case for foreign producers

The latest food scare is affecting rice, the staple diet of southern China

The latest food scare is affecting rice, the staple diet of southern China

 

China can offer one of the great cuisines of the world but a lot of people are losing their appetites following a number of food safety scandals.

Contaminated baby formula, rat meat sold as mutton, and excessive antibiotics in chicken have prompted public fear and outrage, and calls for a more serious approach to quality control in the world’s second largest economy.

The latest food scare is affecting the staple diet of southern China: rice. Consumers are horrified to discover “cadmium rice” or rice containing levels of the heavy metal cadmium, on the menu.


Sales slump
Reports that supplies of rice sold in southern China from big rice-producing provinces such as Hunan were contaminated, saw sales slump, and have prompted strong demand for imported rice.

The Guangzhou Food and Drug Administration said in a report on its website that 44 per cent of rice tested in selected samples had excessive levels of cadmium. Most of the rice that had failed to meet the standard was from two counties of Hunan, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The authorities did not initially reveal which rice brands were contaminated, although they grudgingly revealed some of the suppliers after pressure from consumers online.

The business magazine Caixin said the scandal showed there was an urgent need to do something about soil pollution.

“Soil pollution is more tenacious than air or water contamination. Japan is still continuing a soil clean-up started in the early 1970s. China faces a similarly long haul – as well as a need for determined, capable officials to lead the battle. Legislation that addresses soil pollution issues should be placed high on the government agenda,” the magazine wrote.


Odd advice
The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, gave some odd advice for reducing the risk of contamination. “Experts recommend that people should not consume food and drink from one particular region for long, instead they should diversify to lower the risk,” it said.

The food safety issue is an opportunity for overseas firms because foreign food producers have a strong reputation in China. A key reason why Shanghai’s Bright Foods has signed a memorandum of understanding with Glanbia is because of the Irish company’s excellent reputation for quality.

Last week the French company Danone, owner of Activia yogurt and Evian water, announced that it would spend €325 million on a joint venture and investment in China Mengniu Dairy Co, China’s biggest dairy producer, to expand its brands there. Danone will have an initial indirect interest of about 4 per cent in Mengniu, with the aim of increasing that in the future.

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