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kongli

Food safety in China.

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kongli

Just read this New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/world/asia/08food.html?pagewanted=1&ref=world) about food safety standards in China and some of the food scandals that have been happening in the past week.

The article says:

"In recent weeks, China’s news media have reported sales of pork adulterated with the drug clenbuterol, which can cause heart palpitations; pork sold as beef after it was soaked in borax, a detergent additive; rice contaminated with cadmium, a heavy metal discharged by smelters; arsenic-laced soy sauce; popcorn and mushrooms treated with fluorescent bleach; bean sprouts tainted with an animal antibiotic; and wine diluted with sugared water and chemicals."

This article, coupled with the reoccurring comments regarding China's lack of food safety standards made by one of my teachers, really makes me worry about what I am eating here. I mean arsenic laced soy sauce, WTF!? Does anybody else think about this? What do you do to try and prevent eating harmful things? Do you buy name brand products, limit your consumption of certain foods etc? Or do you just try not to think too much about it?

I am contemplating eliminating meat from my diet, and I have limited the number of times I eat out. The theory being that restaurants probably go with the more cheaper/ cost saving options which would presumably be more likely to have problems. Also god only knows how they prepare it.

Anyway, just wanted to get peoples reactions regarding food safety here and how you deal with it.

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Lu

I try not to think about it. After all, what can you do?

You're right that you never know how restaurants prepare their meal. OTOH, the only time I got really sick here (kept vomiting the entire night) was after eating at a fairly upscale Vietnamese place. Six kuai xiaolongbao have never given me trouble.

And what you buy in the supermarket is also not necessarily safe: milk, meat, veggies... If you limit yourself to big brands, you can't use fresh ingredients anymore.

A while ago I decided to have cereal for breakfast. In the supermarket, I bought cereal. Then I went to the milk shelves. I realized I had no idea which of these five or so brands was safe and which wasn't. In the end, I just picked one, and now I pick a different brand every time, with the vague idea that this way I spread the risk.

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rezaf
"In recent weeks, China’s news media have reported sales of pork adulterated with the drug clenbuterol, which can cause heart palpitations; pork sold as beef after it was soaked in borax, a detergent additive; rice contaminated with cadmium, a heavy metal discharged by smelters; arsenic-laced soy sauce; popcorn and mushrooms treated with fluorescent bleach; bean sprouts tainted with an animal antibiotic; and wine diluted with sugared water and chemicals."

Explains why China has so many cancer patients. This video about the glowing pork is also interesting: My link

Personally I try to buy organic veggies and I seldom eat meat(just fish or shrimp).

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Lu

How do you know how organic your veggies are? From what I know, such labels are as reliable or unreliable as any label in China.

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rezaf
How do you know how organic your veggies are?

And that's when "I try not to think about it. After all, what can you do?"

Anyway one of my teachers pays a few hundred kuai a month to a farmer in one of the villages near Shanghai and the farmer grows organic vegetables for him. Of course he has to go there every few weeks to pick up the vegetables. As far as I have heard the vegetables have insects and he is sure they are organic.

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abcdefg
Anyway, just wanted to get peoples reactions regarding food safety here and how you deal with it.

I worry about food safety from time to time and try not to dwell on it in between. It's easy to become obsessive on the subject and I'm not willing to do that. Might be different if I were feeding a young child at home.

Also I go to a nearby wet market and buy fresh ingredients with which I can cook about one main meal a day at home. I realize the ingredients may still be tainted, or not properly produced. But I still think it's the lesser of several evils if I can handle things up myself and see that they are not spoiled and at least look decent when raw.

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Meng Lelan

Anything relating to safety is questionable in China - my opinion - as long as I have minors under my care they're not going to spend any longer than 14 days in China in any given year and only under my supervision until China overhauls everything pertaining to safety matters in food, environment, building design, etc.

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amandagmu

OK, I probably shouldn't be telling you this because it won't help you stop worrying but.... I am friends with a Fulbrighter whose project is food safety standards. He won't eat anything without checking the label at the supermarket, and when I asked him what he eats he told me imported Japanese, Singaporean, and European products for the most part. I won't elaborate here, but when someone tells me fieldwork stories about soy sauce made out of human hair, I tend to start following their advice about what food to buy.

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adrianlondon

What about all the Chinese branded products (such as soy sauce, presumably not made out of hair) which are imported to other countries? The EU imports loads; batches must be successfully tested. Maybe best to check European supermarkets online for Chinese products, and only buy those ;) Or maybe the factories have two lines; one for export and one not, and only the former has that expensive hair-removal machine ...

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amandagmu

Well, in this case, he named a specific region of Shandong. He does buy soy sauce from other regions of China. ;)

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rezaf
Maybe there are more cancer patients in China, but it is hard to determine which ones are the main contributing factor, it can be the food, or the pollution, or the health care system, or the communist regime, or a combination of these, and I'd be really interested to know the result if there is any study on this has been done.

You are right. Cancer has been growing very fast in China in the last few decades but I don't know which one is the main reason.

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kongli
Seriously, I don't know how I, and my family and my friends and everyone else I know who has been living in China for 25 years or more have dealt with the problem. It has been there long before "recent weeks"/quote]

Has it though? I mean after the agricultural reforms and opening up reforms did factory farms and producers just suddenly start testing out ways to create cheaper products at the expense of consumer health? It seems like there must of been some sort of process involved. Plus prior to 25-30 years ago I doubt people had the money or equipment to integrate such cost saving measures. I really have no idea though, just speculating.

Also, as far as health problems, yea it may not shave years off your life but it may make your quality of life better overall. Probably all in my head but I certainly feel better after I eat a meal that I cooked myself as opposed to one prepared in a restaurant.

Yea, I don't worry about it a lot either except on te occasional times I stop to think about it, like this one. Just looking for people's attitudes towards this problem and any partial solutions.

The article mentioned one of the main problems with regulating food products is that there are so many of them. If only there were some sort of ideology by which we could organize these producers into cooperative organizations....

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Yang Rui

One thing about food safety is that the damage done normally takes a long time to appear. It would be rare to eat something that kills you immediately, but if you eat vegetables contaminated with heavy metals for 40 years, the stuff builds up in your body over time and starts to cause problems. I think this leads to the optimistic view that things are not really that bad. For this reason, it's hard to say for sure how bad the problem is at the moment.

I do worry sometimes about friends and family who live in China and don't have any real choice about what they eat. People who have no choice but to live in China (i.e. the vast majority of people) probably have the most reason to worry about it, but avoid thinking about it because otherwise they would have to live in a permanent state of anxiety. People who only visit once or twice a year probably don't need to worry. The people who worry about it the most are probably those who are living in China, and have done for a while, but have the option to leave if they want to.

This reminds me of an analogy from the book Collapse by Jared Diamond on how people react psychologically to potential danger:

"Consider a narrow deep river valley below a high dam, such that if the dam burst, the resulting flood of water would drown people for a long distance downstream. When attitude pollsters ask people downstream of the dam how concerned they are about the dam's bursting, it's not surprising that fear of a dam burst is lowest far downstream, and increases among residents increasingly close to the dam.

Surprisingly, though, when one gets within a few miles of the dam, where fear of the dam's breaking is highest, as you then get closer to the dam the concern falls off to zero! That is, the people living immediately under the dam who are certain to be drowned in a dam burst profess unconcern. That is because of psychological denial: the only way of preserving one's sanity while living immediately under the high dam is to deny the finite possibility that it could burst."

My way of dealing with it was to buy as much imported food as I could, get anxious and depressed about it from time to time, and ultimately try to think about it as little as possible. But then I left China and it is one of the things that would stop me going back there to live now.

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gato

What about Hong Kong? Does it import most of its food from mainland?

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aristotle1990
I don't see much striking difference on the fundamental health condition between two people of the same social and economical levels grew up in China and overseas, respectively.

As much as I'm wary of eating Chinese food products, I recognize that you may be right. Men and women born in Shanghai today can expect to live to 79.06 and 83.50, respectively. The corresponding figures for Tokyo? 79.36 and 85.7. That is to say, it doesn't seem to matter that much in terms of life expectancy whether you're born in one of the cleanest, safest countries in the world or one with serious pollution and food safety problems. (What kongli says about quality of life may be true, though. And, of course, it should be pointed out that living in places with really severe pollution, such as Linfen, Shanxi, does have a clear impact on life expectancy.)

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xiaocai

@ Yang Rui:

This is an interesting point. But you do realise that most of the scandals you hears in the news have caused problems in a period much shorter than 40 years and therefore they have been exposed. And the impact the contaminants have on one's health was very evident as well.

Your had a good point on the dam analogy. But I have to raise my point here as well. I have to say that I haven't done any systematic study on psychology so can not really comment on the fact that those who live right next to the dam are in fact who worry the least. But I was thinking that who will worry the most? Probably those who obsessively believe that the dam is going to burst at any time and everyone will die when that happens... :P But how many dams in the world have burst so far among those countless dams we have built? Maybe not too many to stop us from building new dams.

@ aristotle1990:

I think it does have impact on quality of life, and I also think it does shorten our life expectancy. And one also can argue that life expectancy is also influenced by other factors such as improved medical standards (well not so high after as well) so that the effect of food safety may not be noticeable.

As someone who lives in this country and is going to live here in the future, I think I can face this problem. What to buy and what not to buy, what to eat and what not to eat, I know I have choices. And I don't think I am just finding the peace by turning a blind eye to it, nor do I think I will live in constant fear if I do not choose to ignore it, and how can you ignore if you still have any connection to the society? Even the Chinese government is working on this problem, so maybe I should not be so pessimistic as some people may have thought.

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kongli
I think I can face this problem. What to buy and what not to buy, what to eat and what not to eat, I know I have choices

How? What do you buy and what do you not buy?

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rezaf

Do you guys have any evidence that the organic veggies in for example carrefour are not reliable?

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xiaocai
How? What do you buy and what do you not buy?

Well maybe I could write an essay on that, but I don't really plan to. :P To put in simple, I buy what my parents and my grand parents have been buying, normal food, as it seems to me that they haven't suffered too much from what they have been eating.

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