China Under Pressure on Food Safety

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Here’s a strong sign that Chinese regulators are under pressure due to the current food safety scandals: they’re blaming the press. “Recently, some media, actually quite a few, have wantonly reported on the so-called lack of safety of Chinese food products,” said an official with China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. It’s quite a turnabout from a few months ago, when the same ministry released its own list of the country’s top ten food scandals from 2006. That list, which included cases of noodles made with borax and fish dried with insecticide, was taken largely from cases reported by the media. Now the food safety issue has gone international with the toxic pet food in the U.S. and the cough syrup poisonings in Panama. That’s undoubtedly put much more pressure on the Chinese authorities, who have also pointed the finger at cheapskate Americans and businesspeople in Panama.

Some people have suggested that there’s an undue emphasis on the “China threat” in all of this. Given that the safety of food shipments is ultimately the responsibility of the the importing nation, there’s some truth to that. And now it appears some U.S. companies are also responsible for churning out the same potentially dangerous animal feed additive that in earlier cases was traced back to China. This development means it won’t be so easy for the U.S. to merely say this is a China problem. Which is good, because the U.S. shouldn’t rely on exporters for its food safety. But that shouldn’t let China off the hook either. There are already signs that this is having a positive effect. This week China announced plans for a national food recall system. The risk of course is that this becomes a game of blaming outside forces, which could stall the important work China still has to do improving domestic food safety for its own citizens.