Government plans to strengthen laws, combined with dramatic increases in private spending, especially by Western companies, may signal the emergence of a “belt and suspenders” approach to finally making food safety a reality for China’s 1 million food producers.
Walmart, which is No. 9 among China’s top retailers, will triple its food safety spending after being caught in a January fraud by a Chinese supplier, who apparently substituted fox meat for the “Five Spice” donkey meat consumers wanted to purchase.
Because of the fox meat sting, Walmart has doubled the DNA testing it does on meat sourced in China. China arrested 900 people last year for food fraud involving substituting fox, mink, and rat for some more desirable meats.
Walmart, however, has not been alone among Western companies that have dramatically increased food safety spending after their consumers became queasy over an in-country problem.
Yum! Brands publicly apologized for its “shortcomings” after a consumer scare over the chicken suppliers for its KFC restaurants. Both KFC and McDonald’s in China had to scramble over TV reports that their chicken suppliers were selling birds with excess amounts of growth-spurring antiviral drugs and hormones.
With 5,100 restaurants, Yum! generates more than half its revenue from China. The company has changed chicken suppliers and stepped up its own random testing of its supply chain.
Another example is Nestlé, which recently told a Beijing food safety conference that it is now conducting 200,000 tests a day at 25 quality assurance centers throughout China.
The increased spending by these companies to safeguard their own sources comes as China is again promising to strengthen its food safety laws. Zhang Yong, director of China’s Food and Drug Administration, says food safety is improving in the country, but “the situation remains severe.”
Zhang wants the National People’s Congress to approve laws to give China a food safety regulatory system that deters and punishes bad behavior.
In the meantime, those who follow food safety in China expect to see more examples of private investment being used as an insurance policy against the bad publicity that comes whenever food is found to be counterfeit or contaminated.© Food Safety News