(This article was first published April 15, 2014, by the Australian Institute for Food Safety and is reposted here with permission from AIFS.)
Infected snail meat, poisonous mushrooms, goat meat marinated in duck urine to make it taste and smell like lamb – these are just some of the culinary delights that China’s food industry has served to its citizens since 2006. In a move to clean up China’s international reputation for appalling food safety, new food safety laws will ban firms caught producing or selling unsafe foods from operating. As a result of these new laws, if a company’s food license is revoked, company executives and employees will not be allowed to work in the food industry for five years. But is fixing the problem as simple as spouting out new laws? The Chinese government will have a hard time battling the deep-seated attitudes of Chinese companies determined to take shortcuts for a quick yuan; it may take many years to see real progress. Harrowing stories emerge when you poke into China’s food safety record. In 2004, a company was charged for making soy sauce from human hair, gathered from public places like hair salons and hospitals, and mixed with condoms, used menstrual pads, and used syringes. China has also seen cases where milk was laced with melamine – an industrial chemical used to create laminate flooring, high resistance concrete, and Magic Erasers – tragically killing at least six children and making nearly 300,000 ill. In May 2013, Chinese pork dealers tried to pass decaying pig meat off as freshly butchered. Meat labelled as lamb has been found to contain rat, fox and mink meat. “Blood puddings,” made with more formaldehyde than blood, are widely available in Chinese markets. And, most recently, gutter oil, an illicit cooking oil pulled from grease traps and sewers, has been circulating in Chinese restaurants and street food vendors. Past efforts by the Chinese government to fix the food industry have failed spectacularly, so this time, will we finally see a difference? Only time will tell. But as the Australian government tries to forge links with the Asian food market, we’ll be waiting with bated breath.