China’s Food Safety: Not Just Chicken Feed

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I wrote recently that some of the patterns established during China’s product quality scandals of 2007 have begun to re-emerge this year. For one, Beijing has started playing up cases of imported goods that haven’t met mainland standards. Earlier this week it was sauces from Japan, now it’s milk from Australia and South Korea. As Reuters notes, the substandard dairy imports were discovered in July, but for unexplained reasons China’s quality czar didn’t publicize the news until this week. The timing raises questions that the government is trying to deflect attention from domestic food safety problems.

It’s good that China is vigilant about the quality of products from overseas, but China’s homegrown worries are far from over. Last weekend the government announced that 3,600 tons of animal feed tainted with melamine had been discovered. The substance is used in making plastics but can also be used to make the protein content of foods appear artificially high. When consumed, melamine can lead to kidney problems. So far it has shown up in domestically produced eggs and dairy products, including milk powder that sickened more than 60,000 children and killed at least four.

Now that melamine has appeared in animal feed, it’s likely to have spread to more than just eggs and milk. It is probably now in meat as well, says Marion Nestle, author of the book “Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.” China’s Ministry of Agriculture has sent out 369,000 inspectors to investigate the quality of animal feed, and some managers have been arrested, the China Daily reported. But they’re going to have to check a whole lot more than chicken feed before anyone can feel safe about food from China.