News / Asia

US, Chinese Officials Discuss Food Safety

An employee at a workshop of a ham-processing factory in Jinhua, Zhejiang province April 10, 2011.
An employee at a workshop of a ham-processing factory in Jinhua, Zhejiang province April 10, 2011.
Stephanie Ho

Newspapers in China these days are filled with horror stories of egregious food safety violations, which are prompting Chinese people to be more aware of the food they eat.  The issue is also of concern to Americans, who are eating more food imported from China. 

Wu Heng, a 25-year-old Chinese university student in Shanghai, became so fed up with what has seemed like a neverending stream of food safety scandals that in June, he started a website that collects and summarizes reports on food safety issues.

Wu says he was spurred into action after reading a report about fake beef - which was basically cheaper pork dressed up with additives to look like more expensive beef.   He was shocked and angry to realize that he was among those who had consumed fake beef.

The website has so far documented more than 2,000 food safety cases, culled from the Internet and Chinese media.  Wu says the data show the number of food safety violations decreased from 2008 to 2010, but started increasing again this year.

Powdered milk scandal

Food safety incidents in China

  • 2008: Six babies are killed and 300,000 others sickened after drinking milk formula contaminated with an industrial chemical
    Dumplings are discovered tainted with an insecticide

  • 2010: Food sciences professor exposes recycled cooking oil taken from sewers outside restaurants
    Green beans are found to be tainted with a pesticide

  • 2011: 'Exploding' watermelons in eastern Jiangsu province are blamed on overuse of growth hormones
    Hundreds are sickened in April after eating pork tainted with the steroid clenbuterol
    Pork is contaminated with phosphorescent bacteria that causes meat to emit a blue light
    Eleven people die and at least 120 are sickened after consuming vinegar tainted with anti-freeze

China's problems with food safety were catapulted to national headlines in 2008, when milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical melamine led to the deaths of six babies and sickened hundreds of thousands of others.

Qiu Baochang, a lawyer with the China Consumers Association, a government-funded organization that was established in late 1984, acknowledges there have been a host of food safety problems. He cites chemicals added to old mantou buns to make them seem fresh, and a scandal involving restaurants that re-used dirty and sometimes toxic cooking oil.

Qiu says the government is paying great attention to the issue and the public tends to exaggerate the problem.

Qiu thinks food safety in China is much better than five years ago, but says many people feel the situation is much worse because of the Internet - which can spread stories quickly.  He says the Internet stories are not always factual and make things seem worse than they really are, which, in his words, could create public terror.

US response

Other countries are responding to concerns about the safety of the global food trade with new legislation. Earlier this year, the United States enacted the Food Safety Modernization Act, which requires food importers verify the safety of the food that increasingly comes from overseas suppliers.

“We have had global tripling in the last decade of import entries of food coming into this country, and China has certainly been a big part of that,” explained Michael Taylor, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s deputy commissioner for foods.

This month, Taylor and his colleagues held meetings in Beijing with their Chinese counterparts on food safety issues.  He says the main goal was to explain the Food Safety Modernization Act’s new rules, and seek comment from Chinese government and industry.

“Beginning after the first of next year, we expect substantial comments from the Chinese perspective, on the rule and what the rule should be,” Taylor said.

As U.S. food imports grow, so do the challenges for maintaining food safety.

Additional measures

Murray Lumpkin, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's representative for global issues, says his agency stationed its first employee overseas only three years ago.

“FDA is not like some of the other agencies within the U.S. government that have a long history of placing staff overseas.  This is really quite new for us," Lumpkin said.  "And we are, fundamentally, a domestic consumer protection agency.  What gets us involved outside of the U.S., as you have been hearing, is that so many of the products for which we are responsible in the United States now come from outside the United States.”

One of the largest exporters of food products to the United States, China has indicated it is willing to work with other countries on safety.  

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei calls food import and export a major part of business cooperation. He says China believes food safety is important to enhancing bilateral cooperation and normal relations.

As an increasing volume of food products move from China to the United States, there are also American ideas about food safety making their way to China. Student Wu Heng says one basic food safety inspiration for him came from one of the first exposes of American food safety problems.

Wu says he was inspired by American writer Upton Sinclair, whose book The Jungle describes the meat packing industry in Chicago more than 100 years ago.

The Chinese student recounts a story in which then U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt was said to be reading The Jungle while he was eating breakfast at the White House. When he read about the book’s description of horrible working conditions and unsanitary food preparations, he is reported to have screamed and thrown his food out the window.

Whether or not the events actually happened this way, the incident is immortalized in the title for Wu’s website: “Throw It Out the Window.”

You May Like

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid