China notches up alarming rise in foodborne illness

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, People's republic of china

There has been a rapid increase in the incidence of foodborne
parasitic diseases, stemming from the country's burgeoning demand
for raw food, according to new figures from the Chinese government.

According to a survey commissioned by the Chinese Ministry of Health between 2001-4, the prevalence of the food-borne parasite Clonorchis sinensis​ - more commonly known as the Chinese or oriental liver fluke - increased by more than 75 per cent.

Officials estimate that around 12 million people have been infected with the parasite; many of which have gone on to develop hepatic distomiasis - a potentially fatal liver disorder.

The survey, conducted across 31 Chinese provinces and autonomous regions, discovered that the number of documented cases of liver fluke in South China's Guangdong province had rocketed by more than 600 per cent in just over a decade. Furthermore, the region now accounts for nearly 50 per cent of China's hepatic distomiasis patients.

"Food-borne parasitic disease is a growing threat to public health and an outstanding issue for food safety,"​ said Hao Yang, an official with the Disease Control and Prevention Division of the Ministry of Health.

Officials attributed the increase to a growing preference among Chinese consumers for raw food - particularly that of seafood, which in recent years has become increasingly popular throughout China's coastal provinces, for instance Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang and Shandong.

The prevalence of land-based food parasites, however, has fallen by over 60 per cent in just over a decade - thanks largely to the heightened awareness of domestic hygiene and the decreasing use of banned pesticides and chemicals in Chinese agriculture.

In 1990, for instance, 536 million people were diagnosed with verminosis, a dangerous gastro-intestinal condition, which can be contracted through the ingestion of raw and semi-raw pork and beef. This figure has since fallen to around 136 million.

The survey comes less than six months after Chinese vice-premier Wu Yi said that the country would introduce measures to improve the country's food safety situation.

Speaking at the Gobal Food Safety Forum in Bangkok last year, she said that China needed to "streamline its food monitoring system"​ and pledged to introduce a new system of food standards, an effective food monitoring network and also a food safety credit system.

Related topics: Food safety

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