The office of the powerful General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) in the huge city of Chongqing is investigating the source of 26.9 tons of “thawed and rotting” pigs’ heads, worth US$40,200, which were discovered rotting in a dump on the outskirts of one of China’s biggest cities. The boxes, stacked in a shipping container, were labelled as originating in Denmark, as shown on local TV.
AQSIQ and police officers were filmed on local TV news wearing masks as they sifted through boxes at the Hei Shizi municipal dump outside the city of Chongqing which is home to over 20 million people. The meat rotted because the container was not refrigerated according to a statement to media from the AQSIQ which stresses the “grave food safety risks” involved in the Chongqing incident. It also pointed out that the AQSIQ rules under the Inspection and Quarantine Management Book requires that the consignee of the goods must destroy them under the official AQSIQ structure.
“Also, domestic Chinese consignee or buyers will have their legal rights protected and can seek compensation from the provider or the transporter of the goods.” Exporters of perishable product have frequently raised concerns about the patchy quality of China’s cold chain network, with poor handling of imported carcases often attributed to a lack of knowledge.
In many cases carcases are transported on trucks lacking refrigeration and stored in unsuitable warehouses. International logistics firms like Hong Kong-based Swire offer cold chain services around the country, but the size of the country and a threadbare network of cold warehouse storage means there is much to be done.
The Chongqing incident will force meat exporters to rethink their distribution arrangements in China. Meat importers need to keep meat below minus 18°C, warned AQSIQ while it also warned of upcoming inspections to facilities operated by importing companies.
In a reference to illegal imports, it also warned consumers to “purchase meat only in regulated supermarkets, and always ensure that labelling is in Chinese or has been translated to Chinese [alongside original labelling]”. AQSIQ also warned consumers to check for an AQSIQ ‘Certificate of Entry Inspection’ before buying imported meat products.
China’s grey trade in imported food products has been a worry, both in terms of lost tax revenue but also the danger to food safety. Large volumes of meat and seafood are smuggled into China to avoid tariffs that are as high as 25%.
Research by Market Research Reports Store (MRRS) showed only 20% of perishables transported within the country are refrigerated (compared with 80-100% in the US). The estimated spoilage rate is between 20% and 30%.
China’s cabinet, the State Council, has made refrigeration a key plank in its plans to improve food safety. One way China is doing this is by allowing smaller airports to handle imports, removing some of the congestion at air cargo gateways including Shanghai and Guangzhou. The smaller airports will have to catch up with cold chain facilities, however.
Servicing the country’s most populous province, Henan Airport Group has teamed up with Dalian Port Yidu Cold Chain Logistics to build a ‘Central China Hub of Frozen and Fresh Produce’ – one of several similar large-scale projects being built around China.