Food safety an Olympic challenge

Pampered pigs or processed pork? Farm-fresh or greenhouse grown? China's food supplies are under serious scrutiny with the Beijing Olympic Games around the corner.

by: Lindsay Beck | 11 Jan 2008

At the headquarters of China's product safety watchdog, a bank of screens shows real-time video monitoring of food-related facilities, including one churning out chewing gum and customs bureau that handle food imports and exports. The monitoring station can receive signals from 1 000 facilities at one time.

"During the Beijing Olympic Games, the inspection and quarantine agencies will use the monitoring network to have real-time monitoring over each product to guarantee food safety," said Sun Bo, an official at the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

China has launched a massive coding system incorporating everything from vegetables to drinking water after a wave of scandals highlighted corruption in oversight bodies and a willingness among manufacturers to flout standards in order to maximise razor-thin profit margins.

But basic questions remain over how food safety will be assured during the Games, not least the safety of meat, which has been a focus of concern over the possibility that residual drugs in animal feed could cause positive doping tests.

The use of antibiotics and growth stimulants to boost yields is common in food production globally, including in China where it is poorly regulated. "It's going to be a major challenge," said Grover Niemeier, a Shanghai-based adviser on food and sanitation issues.

"The standards in Chinese meat generally fall way short of what is needed or is realistic to try to ensure food safety in avoiding false drug tests during the Games," he added.

This little piggy
Part of the challenge for Chinese officials trying to clean up the industry comes down to the very nature of farm breeding. Hogs in China are typically raised on small farms and then aggregated, making random tests in any one consignment meaningless and making it almost impossible to trace origins.

It also makes it easier for producers to get away with lacing their feed with drugs like clenbuterol, a steroid banned in meat production in both China and the United States but which experts say is still commonly used by Chinese producers to boost animal muscle mass.

Aramark Corp., which provided food services for the Athens Games, has confirmed that it is the official provider for Beijing, responsible for serving more than 3.5 million meals during the 60-day period of the Olympics and Paralympics.

In the meantime, stung by the international outcry over the safety of its food and products, China is making strides in improving its regulatory environment.

A draft food safety law under debate sets higher fines for errant firms and would require food packages to list ingredients.

But with some seven months to go before the Games, time is running thin to clean up a sector that extends from farm to factory, to grocery store, to dinner plate.

- None


NEXT ON FOOD24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.