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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid