In China, Fear of Fake Eggs and ‘Recycled’ Buns

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In China, Fear of Fake Eggs and ‘Recycled’ Buns

Postby long_way » Thu Jan 05, 2012 10:08 pm

In China, Fear of Fake Eggs and ‘Recycled’ Buns

By SHARON LaFRANIERE
Published: May 7, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/world ... &ref=world

SHANGHAI — On a bustling corner near downtown Shanghai recently, some shoppers avoided the steamed buns sold by Zhu Qinghe in a street-side cubbyhole. Instead, they bought the packaged buns in the freezer section of Hualian, a supermarket chain store in the same building.

Big mistake: Mr. Zhu’s buns were soft, tasty and fresh, made every day, he said, at 3 a.m. The supermarket’s, on the other hand, came from a filthy workshop where workers “recycled” buns after their sell-by date. The workers merely threw the stale buns into a vat, added water and flour, and repackaged them to be sold anew.

It has been two years since China’s government, reeling from nationwide outrage over melamine-contaminated baby milk that sickened 300,000 infants and killed at least 6, declared food safety a national priority. Since then, it has threatened, raided and arrested throngs of shady food processors — and even executed a couple.

But a stomach-turning string of food-safety scandals this spring, from recycled buns to contaminated pork, makes it clear that official efforts are falling short. Despite efforts to create a modern food-safety regimen, oversight remains utterly haphazard, in the hands of ill-trained, ill-equipped and outnumbered enforcers whose quick fixes are even more quickly undone.

“Most of them are working like headless chickens, having no clue what are the major food-borne diseases that need to be addressed or what are the major contaminants in the food process,” said Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a food safety expert with the World Health Organization’s Beijing office.

In recent weeks, China’s news media have reported sales of pork adulterated with the drug clenbuterol, which can cause heart palpitations; pork sold as beef after it was soaked in borax, a detergent additive; rice contaminated with cadmium, a heavy metal discharged by smelters; arsenic-laced soy sauce; popcorn and mushrooms treated with fluorescent bleach; bean sprouts tainted with an animal antibiotic; and wine diluted with sugared water and chemicals.

Even eggs, seemingly sacrosanct in their shells, have turned out not to be eggs at all but man-made concoctions of chemicals, gelatin and paraffin. Instructions can be purchased online, the Chinese media reported.

Scandals are proliferating, in part, because producers operate in a cutthroat environment in which illegal additives are everywhere and cost-effective. Manufacturers calculate correctly that the odds of profiting from unsafe practices far exceed the odds of getting caught, experts say. China’s explosive growth has spawned nearly half a million food producers, the authorities say, and four-fifths of them employ 10 or fewer workers, making oversight difficult.

Read the whole article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/world ... &ref=world

See also:

No End in Sight for China’s Food Safety Scandals
By Austin Ramzy | @austinramzy | April 26, 2011
http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2011/0 ... -scandals/

One of the most disheartening things about food safety problems in China, aside from the harm they do to human health, is the regularity with which they occur. That thought came to mind as news of the latest tainted food scandal emerged this week. Nearly 300 villagers in Hunan were hospitalized over the weekend after eating pork at a wedding, the state-run China Daily reported (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011 ... 383756.htm). The meat was believed to have been contaminated with clenbuterol, a drug that farmers use to trim fat from pigs but can cause induce headaches and nausea when the meat is consumed. My colleague Jessie Jiang wrote about a case last month in which China’s largest meat producer was found to have sold pork tainted with the substance, which is known informally in Chinese as “lean meat powder”:

Chen Junshi, a professor specializing in nutrition and food safety at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that the clenbuterol-tainted pork from Henan might well be the tip of the iceberg. “Given the sheer number of pig farmers located all over the country, each one of them operating on a relatively small scale, I think the use of clenbuterol is virtually inevitable,” Chen said, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if an individual pig farmer, lured by short-term profits, would still take the risk. “The same also holds true for many other food safety crises as well.”

Chen’s tip-of-the-iceberg prediction has sadly proven correct. It was probably an easy call to make. The circularity of food safety scandals here means that the announcement of one contaminant generally means that many more cases of the same substance being used will emerge in the coming weeks and months. That was the case in 2008, when the emergence of melamine in baby formula, which killed six infants, led to inspections that found a quarter of the country’s dairies had traces of the substance in their products. That led much tough talk and eventually a new food safety law in 2009. But problems clearly remain. In addition to the recent clenbuterol cases, some businesses have been caught using additives to change pork into something that could pass for beef, thus selling for a higher price. (The chinaSMACK blog has a stomach-turning photo essay of the process. http://www.chinasmack.com/2011/pictures ... -beef.html)

Read the whole article: http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2011/0 ... -scandals/

Read more: http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2011/0 ... z1if1M7zgl
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