So much for lauding China as the world’s jumbo factory, churning out tons and tons of goods at prices no other economy can match.
The whole world is now stepping up checks on Chinese imports and many people have stopped buying food products after a whole slew of health-related scares cropped up recently, ranging from toothpaste to pet food. Even the Chinese themselves are on the alert. Reuters reported that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will now only “order food from suppliers who pass local government hygiene and safety tests as to strengthen food safety is to guarantee the PLA's combat capacity”.
Elsewhere in the world, Indonesia has declared a ban on food supplements, cosmetics and medicine from Chinain early July after findings reported that “the medicines contained chemical substances while the cosmetics were mixed with mercury and rhodamin and its food products were mixed with formalin which were dangerous to health”. Indonesian Medicine and Food Control Organisation (BPOM) Chief Husniah Rubiana Thamrin Akib said that the ban will only be lifted after it meets governmental standards. The results of these tests will be known next week. While no bans have been carried out in Malaysiaand Singapore, the respective governments have increased tests and advised the public to exercise care in consumption of certain food products from China, such as preserved duck eggs and plums.
The loss in public confidence in China-made goods has been detrimental for the economy and Beijinghas stepped up emergency action to salvage the situation. Critics are relieved that the long-awaited improvement is finally here. For years countries such as the United Stateshave criticized China for not controlling its safety standards, but Beijingalways defended itself angrily. Now, a chastened China seeks to mend its reputation and curb double-standards. Lacking “a basic food safety law and the ability to enforce its food and drug safety regulations at home or for exports”, imports of foreign goods have always been subjected to rigorous checks but domestic products are not.
Last week, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao unveiled a comprehensive list of penalties for food and drug firms that violate standards. Wen declared, “Product quality relates to our people's interest, the survival and development of our enterprises and the image of our nation.” The measures include raising “the threshold for products relating to human health and safety so as to prevent problematic exports from leaving the country”, “check every stage of production, including raw materials, additives and intermediate products, so as to make the ‘made in China’ brand a symbol for goods with great quality”, and hefty fines and imprisonment will be meted out to producers who fail the new safety standards.
With the 2008 Olympic Games coming up, Beijing has now dramatically increased the reward for people who report illegal food practices to 50,000 yuan from the original 10,000 yuan. China’s honour is at stake and it would be especially humiliated if the visitors to the Olympics fall sick due to local products. The authorities have arranged that “round-the-clock guards will watch Olympic kitchens, food storage areas come under video surveillance, food transport vehicles be fitted with global positioning systems and mice be used to test athletes' food”. (30 July 2007)
Stricter tests on imports from China for contamination (Star, 30 July 2007)
Indonesia Bans Import of Food, Cosmetics, Medicine from China(Bernama, 28 July 2007) Chinaraises rewards for tip-offs on food safety (Straits Times, 28 July 2007)
Food safety crucial to China's reputation: Premier (Reuters, 27 July 2007)
Chinasteps up defense of its products' safety (IHT, 27 July 2007)