Strong opinions - Can the U.S. guarantee food safety in China?

Image from Food Poison Blog
Lian Yue (连岳) is a popular blogger and journalist. Below is a translation from a recent column of his in the Southern Metropolis Daily (南方都市报), about the current food safety issue in China.

It is rare to see such critical writing in state-owned newspapers.

Can the U.S. guarantee food safety in China?

by Lian Yue

After The New York Times published explosive special reports about medicine and food safety in China, a huge problem that faces ordinary Chinese people has finally became a international issue. It's a shocking reminder of how small the world has become: Chinese people can get to know China through The New York Times; Americans can get sick by eating toxic food from China. Nobody was surprised when the vice director of GAQSIQ (General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of PRC, 中国质检总局) responded that the Chinese government "pays close attention to consumers' safety and works hard all the time to guarantee the quality of products and health of people." No one wants to lose face, I can understand this kind of excuse. But perhaps it would be more praiseworthy if they admitted the problems that everyone knows exist.

Based on the theory that everyone is equal, the Chinese food producers have poisoned everyone, whether Chinese or American. So Americans have been forced to pay attention the Chinese food safety issue. This makes many people have hope, thinking that the food safety problem will at last be solved. This is not good. Food products and coal mines are not going to be safe, this is the reality that Chinese people have learnt through bitter suffering. After accepting this reality, everyone is reconciled to it: they eat what they need to eat, the unlucky ones go down coal mines, there's no need to be tempted by the vain hope that this problem will be solved. In this place of ours, even Lei Gong (the Thunder God who punishes people who do bad things by striking them with lightning) neglects his duty and only goes after primary school students. So how can we expect officials to take any more responsibility aside from shedding a few crocodile tears and issuing token condemnations.

The Americans cannot guarantee safety in Baghdad, nor can they ensure Chinese food is safe. Chinese food producers will just make two different products: the export products will be 100% safe, but they will cut corners on food for the domestic market and keep on poisoning at home — otherwise, where will their profits come from? We cannot expect others to fix our own unsolved problems. The "Don't do evil" Google changed quickly after entering Chinese market. What a fertile land! Whatever seeds you sow, they grow into something despicable.

Mine workers' deaths are their own business, government officials never care about them, even the law is tolerant of the mine owners. When street vendors are beaten up, it is also vendors' business. College students standing by watching chengguan (the minor officials who manage order on city streets) beat up vendors want to become glorious members of the chengguan squad, and this problem is just a small one that does not involve many people. Actually, there is no conflict of interest or class conflict when it comes to environmental and food safety problems. Everyone needs to eat, drink and breath. Even if rich people can consume imported food, they still have to breath domestic air. So it should not be too hard to build a strict monitoring system. But right now this system only exist in words. Sometimes I indulge myself in the evils of schadenfreude and enjoy hearing about some important person dying of some disease: even the big shots cannot live any longer than the poor poisoned masses. Of course I should do a deep self-examination deeply; after all they died and I should be generous spirited.

The current food safety problem shows that the supervisor probably exchanged safety to money, even if he became a victim himself. Everyone is used to corruption, used to exchanging power for money. It's like a butcher in the joke who gets used to stealing meat at his job. One day at home, he hides a piece of meat in his sleeve. His wife is confused and ask why. He says, I am used to it, this is just the way it's done.

It very clear that if they cannot guarantee public interests that affect everybody, you can't expect them to guarantee the interests of disadvantaged minorities, like poor people.

Note: From the The Financial Times:

China sentences ex-drug official to death
May 29, 2007
By Geoff Dyer

The former head of China’s food and drugs regulator was sentenced to death in Beijing on Tuesday for taking bribes to approve medicines, as the government scrambled to restore confidence after a series of scandals about health and safety.

Zheng Xiaoyu was convicted on charges of taking more than Rmb6.5m ($832,000, €632,000, £429,000) in bribes from drugs companies and of “dereliction of duty” by the Beijing municipal no. 1 intermediate people’s court, the official Xinhua news agency said.

He can still appeal against the harsh sentence. But it is the most decisive response yet from Beijing to the growing unease in China and overseas about the quality of its food and drugs, which is threatening to undermine fast-growing agricultural exports.

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There are currently 9 Comments for Strong opinions - Can the U.S. guarantee food safety in China?.

Comments on Strong opinions - Can the U.S. guarantee food safety in China?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the only answer is to _take personal responsibility_.

If someone starts smoking at the next table, ask them to stop. Maybe they won't -- but it will surprise you how many people will.

If someone tries to run you over, smash their fucking panels in. When they get out of their car, calmly say "That's the price for driving like a dumb cunt" and walk away. They ain't gonna leave their precious car and come after you!

If someone is talking loudly on their mobile phone, smile and ask them politely to turn the volume down. If they don't, get out your own mobile phone and talk loudly right next to them. People _really_ get the message with this one.

Favorite Chinese activities: telling stories about all the terrible things that happen to people who "get involved"; and writing whiny columns (with gratuitous shots at Google -- bonus!) about how someone should "do something".

Are we feeling the disconnect here?!

"It very clear that if they cannot guarantee public interests that affect everybody" blah blah blah. Who is THEY? There is only YOU.

"Favorite Chinese activities: telling stories about all the terrible things that happen to people who "get involved"; and writing whiny columns (with gratuitous shots at Google -- bonus!) about how someone should "do something".

I think his shot is at China for making Google evil, not at Google. What do you suggest the writer does exactly?

>>What do you suggest the writer does exactly?

Presumably the writer is a journalist -- and this is just off the top of my head -- but maybe write an article naming names? Pick some minor local scandal and do the "police report that they have pictures of Mr. Wang and Mr. Li at the scene, this newspaper awaits the results of their investigation" schtick.

Oh no! He couldn't do that! He might get into trouble! Didn't you hear about that one guy somewhere who took personal responsibility and got shafted?!

Better by far to just write articles about how no-one can do anything. Yeah.

Shan, you are a chicken-sh*t. You go to China and be brave and stand up to the government. See what happens. Oh, yeah, and if you ever smashed the panels of my car, I definitely would get out of my car and level you to the ground.

There is no gaurantee.

Just look at the cases of food problems we have domestically? Mad cow, contaminated green onion and lettuce. Going back more remember Jack in the Box?

If someone starts smoking at the next table, ask them to stop. Then you haven't been to China, as all the domestic air is smoke polluted for years. In fact, the young new generation has never seen stars at night, as so often the Moon is hidden from the pollution. It is common even in such famous cities like Beijing that automobiles cannot drive, as the air quality is so bad, one cannot see ahead to drive.

So Shan, you are going to yell outside please stop making the air smoky? That is going to resolve the issue here?

The issue at hand isn't the opinion of Shan, it's about how the economy is being exploited by corruption, by corporations that have basically little regard for responsibility for the people and the environment.

The sooner everyone questions what we do for work, that is what drives our economy, the sooner we can have ecology. Did you even know what ecology is?

Economics must be dynamic, that is sustainable just as a farmer must insure the nest years harvest. What the corrupt officials and political parties are doing, is selling the seeds of next years crop to make profit today at our expense.

We the people end up with the pollution, paying for the environment, and suffering to be lead by our "Great Leaders" down the wrong direction again out of greed and corruption.

Must we wait until there is no air to breathe, no soil to grow food, no clean water to drink, just so some greedy corrupt shareholder, public official, and political party be a corporation or otherwise be allowed to ruin all our lives just so they are rich?

How many more $50 billionaires do we need, while billions of us are living in poverty?

The rich certainly have a monopoly on society. By restricting the benefit of innovation into the hands of a few, these few have artificially increased the demand in the marketplace, at our cost of living, working to make them rich.

Why do you think the American corporation went to China? So they could take advantage of the Chinese people, for their cheap labor, instead of investing in their own domestic market. No American would want to work for $0.17 an hour, which the American Wal-mart corporation pays it's Chinese employees.

Wake Up...

"the young new generation has never seen stars at night"

OMFG this has GOT to be the worst 6/4 "bash China" blogsphere propaganda. You sure you're not a FLGer?

Why don't you go check it out for yourself? I have personally seen stars in China on every one of my trips.

>>Oh, yeah, and if you ever smashed the panels of my car, I definitely would get out of my car and level you to the ground.

Bring it on, big man!

The other side of this is, of course, that you're admitting to driving around trying to run people over... which was the "smash panels" point.

Oh, and I do live in China. At the bar I was at last night, the 99% local crowd was loudly discussing that it was "Tian'anmen Eve" and cussing out the bar owner when he tried to shush everyone up.

Which, I have to say, is an activity that I respect FAR more than writing hand-wringing articles about how it's all someone else's fault.

Shan has a point or two here. Yes there aer big bad wolves playing here, and yes one less cigarette won't make the world clean, but he is - I think- just opinting out that every little bit of active public opinion helps a bit to undermine profiteering against the country's long term future. (dealing with domestic energy subsidies that encourage over-use would be a good idea as well) But one thing in the original atricle that I think is wrong - the food chain cannot be bifurcated (except if the poison only comes in at the last point of processing which is unlikely)- so if the food is poisonous - it will get into the export chain too. So, international backlash that hits producers should create a motivation for some improvement, or maybe just another head of food safety jumping.

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