Biting into China's food safety

A woman eats spicy crayfish at a Nanjing, China, restaurant.

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Tong: There's an international forum on food safety today. Guess where it is? Beijing. China desperately wants to convince the world that its food is safe to eat. The Chinese government has started a massive campaign to inspect the food industry. We got a peek at how those inspections work. Scott Tong has more from Shanghai.


Scott Tong: Mr. Peng and Mr. Zhao are food safety inspectors. They roam Shanghai in a mobile testing unit. It's a long van with a lab in the back.

First stop: a supermarket run by the German chain Metro. The testers grab packs of cabbage, then it's back to the van for testing.

Marketplace researcher Linda Lin watches as the men drip chemicals to test the food. The result: no pesticide on the veggies. Our inspectors proclaim similar success at their next stop -- an indoor farmers market.

Linda asks if the tests are random. The inspectors ignore her.

They'd also like to ignore this old man. He has his own questions.

Old Man (interpreter): I wonder if there's hydrogen peroxide in our food? How will we ever know?

Shaun Rein of China Market research says for many, food quality is the top concern.

Shaun Rein: If the government doesn't crack down and ensure supply chain, you're going to have a lot of social unrest and lot of social instability.

China has a half million food processors, and the new rules for checking and finding them are still in the works.

And, says industry consultant Grover Neimeir of Eco-lab, the core problem is something most people never think about: China's water.

Grover Neimeir: That polluted water with anything from industrial pollutions to human waste is finding its way into the food chain. Also comes out the faucet.

On a scale of 1 to 10, market researcher Shaun Rein gives China a 6. Having said that:

Rein: I think it's definitely gotten better. When I first moved to China in the mid 90's, I would have given it a 2 or a 3.

How long til China hits 10? Independent experts think five to 10 years, at least. Until then, the government will keep sending out the food police, maintaining the situation is under control.

In Shanghai I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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