Mass poisonings highlight China food safety concerns

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, Food safety

The Chinese government is likely to come under further pressure to
review its safety procedures following a recent wave of food
poisoning outbreaks in the country.

An alleged food poisoning case involving 30 people in a cafeteria in the Fujian Province is the fourth similar occurrence in the space of two weeks, according to the country's Xinhua news agency. The latest scare over food safety is likely to heighten pressure on the Chinese government and the food industry to reform its safety procedures amidst growing concern from consumers over the quality and safety of products. On Monday, two separate incidents occured involving workers in Shanghai and high-school children in Changchun, resulting in 79 people being hospitalised for suspected cases of food poisoning. These outbreaks followed an incident on 9 April, where hospital food reportedly contaminated with rat poison was served to 200 people, resulting in one fatality. Growing concerns over outbreaks such as these already appear to have driven some response from the government. At the beginning of this month, the Chinese government reportedly began reviewing food recall procedures in a bid to prevent contaminated products from entering the market, while also minimising their effect on consumers. The announcement could go some way in allaying fears that with no official national body to currently enact food recalls, companies may not be supplying the relevant information needed to track dangerous products. Any new measures are therefore likely to be welcomed by consumers in the country. Last year, a poll of 868 people in the southern province of Guangzhou found that 80 per cent of those questioned were worried about the safety of food they purchased. The survey by the Guangzhou public opinion research centre during November found that more than 62 per cent of people believed government agencies could work more closely and increase the frequency of food inspection. They also wanted the penalty for breaking regulations to be increased. Food producers found guilty of selling poor quality or unsafe products face fines of up to CNY30,000 (€2,850) but this merely equals the cost of regular food testing. China saw a number of high profile food safety scares last year, including the discovery of the potentially carcinogenic colorant, Sudan Red, in duck eggs. Some 1,159kgs of eggs produced in Hebei Province near Beijing were pulled from supermarket shelves in the capital after tests showed that the red colour of the yolks - thought by consumers to be a sign of higher quality - were caused by the dye, likely added to chicken feed. The food safety problems have also highlighted the gap between rural and urban areas of China, both in terms of enforcement and awareness. The State Food and Drug Administration has so far only established its presence at the provincial level and in selected cities.

Related topics: Food safety

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