As food fears soar, government seeks to improve supervision

08:17, June 07, 2011      

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To eat or not to eat: it is the question many have to ponder now, as a new wave of food safety scares has renewed fears in China over continued food safety problems.

Lin Min, a resident of the city of Hangzhou in east China's Zhejiang Province, has decided to avoid eating watermelons this summer after hearing reports of watermelons exploding after being treated with excessive doses of growth accelerant.

"It is okay if I don't eat any watermelons, for I can find some other fruit to eat instead," Lin said.

"What bothers me most is that I'm not sure what food is safe to eat now," Lin said.

Lin's worries are shared by a growing number of people, with the surfacing of tainted pork, toxic milk, dyed buns and other tainted foods in recent months. Many Chinese have taken to the Internet to express their concerns about food safety.


Compared with the pessimistic opinions shared by many citizens, government officials seem to be casting the issue in a relatively positive light, arguing that food safety has improved in recent years.

The percentage of food products that meet acceptable safety standards has increased by about 3 percent year-on-year in Zhejiang since 2007, according to Ji Shenglin, deputy director of the Zhejiang Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision.

Ninety-three percent of food products produced in 2010 met or exceeded these standards, Ji said.

Analysts say that heightened fears about food safety are not without a certain degree of irrationality.

"Forchlorfenuron, a plant hormone that caused the watermelons to explode earlier this year, is legal for agricultural use. It results in earlier harvests and is not dangerous to consume. The explosions were caused by farmers applying the hormone at the wrong time," said Wang Jianwei, an official from the Zhejiang Department of Agriculture.

"In a similar case, there were media reports that ethylene was used to accelerate growth in bananas. These reports stirred public outrage, but in fact, using ethylene in this way is a common agricultural practice and is not dangerous in any way," Wang said.

Experts have called for better education of the public when it comes to food safety, saying that food safety fears are largely fueled by a lack of knowledge in the areas of biology and agriculture.

Zhejiang Province Vice Governor Zheng Jiwei sees a bright side to the public's sensitivity, however.

Several decades ago, when many people were struggling to break out of poverty, few people would even think of questioning the quality of their food, Zheng said.

The fact that people are paying more attention to health and food safety is a sign of increased social affluence, Zheng said.

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Source: Xinhua
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