Visiting China, it is not safe to drink the water, the produce is pretty dodgy and they are sending a lot of the food here

Visiting China, it is not safe to drink the water, the produce is pretty dodgy and they are sending a lot of the food here
A resident of Sihoupo tends to his vegetable garden.

(Updated to add proposed appointment of safety officers in China.)

The steady increase in cheap food imports is a threat not only to local producers but also to our health ... if reports from China are to be believed.

We imported $31.7 million worth of processed fruit and vegetables last year and the bulk of this was from China. At the same time we exported $100 million worth.

The imports included frozen vegetable products, canned fruit and asparagus.

There was also $10.8 million worth of “fresh” fruit from China up from $7.1 million in 2009. This included lots of pears and from 2010 grapes.

Then there was of course the garlic under the fresh vegetable category worth almost $20 million.

Last year a report by China’s national broadcaster CCTV detailed the manufacturing process followed by 16 companies that sell preserved fruit.

If you have just eaten a can of peaches imported from China it would pay not to read any further.

“Rotten peaches pickled in outdoor pools surrounded by garbage are spiked with sodium metabisulfite to keep the fruit looking fresh and with bleaching agents and additives harmful to the human liver and kidneys. The peaches are packed in uncleaned bags that previously held animal feed and then shipped off to big-brands stores,” according to the New York Times.

Toxic preserved fruit is the latest item on China’s expanding list of unsafe food products. Baby formula adulterated with melamine is the best known, but there is also meat containing the banned steroid clenbuterol, rice contaminated with cadmium, noodles flavored with ink and paraffin, mushrooms treated with fluorescent bleach and cooking oil recycled from street gutters.

China grows half of the world’s vegetables and almost 20% of its fruit.

China’s people consume most of its produce, but an increasing share is being exported to New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Europe, and the rest of the world.

One of the biggest problems with eating Chinese fruit and vegetables is the rising risk of ingesting one of any number of highly toxic heavy metals, including mercury, lead, and the cadmium. In fact, according to China’s own Ministry of Land and Resources, more than 10% of China’s arable land has already been contaminated by heavy metal detritus from China’s factories, mines, smelters, and power plants.

A second major health issue is the exceedingly high levels of pesticide residues often found in Chinese produce.

As documented in the Journal of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, the underlying problem is the tendency for China’s farmers to overuse pesticides in an effort to boost their meager crop yields. As a result, the FDA has had to reject Chinese agricultural products ranging from ginseng and frozen red raspberry crumble to mushrooms.

Der Spiegel recently reported that China’s farmers no longer eat the same foods that they sell.

Zhou Li, a lecturer at Beijing's Renmin University who studies food safety, told the newspaper farmers were now aware of the harmful effects of pesticides, fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics. They still produced a portion of their farm products for the market and a portion for their own families.

The only difference was that the food for their families was produced using traditional methods.

In fact, many wealthy Chinese have bought their own farms so as not to be dependent on what's available in supermarkets.

There were also reports of special plots of land used to produce food exclusively for senior government officials.

People concerned

The Chinese people themselves are becoming increasingly concerned about what is happening in their country.

Air pollution has just been recorded at the end of last year as the worst in 52 years.

And this week a $330 billion battle to tackle water pollution got underway.

Figures just released showed the state of drinking water was a worry for more than 80% of citizens, the second biggest concern behind smog (90%) and over 80% say they have real concerns about China’s environmental problems.

The government recently announced tiered water charges to encourage people to use less water.

A six-month campaign against major industrial polluters is due to start later this month.

New safety inspectors

On Monday, the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) announced the launch of a trial program in which food producers will be asked to appoint a chief safety officers, according to the official news agency Xinhua.

The chief safety officer, appointed by the owner or management of a food producer, will be held responsible all issues regarding the safety of food produced by a company.

The CFDA said this would solve the embarrassing situation in which everyone in the management was responsible for food safety and no one actually was responsible.

Meanwhile, the whole food production and sales process must be fully recorded and be made traceable, the CFDA said

 

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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If I recall correctly, the Greens want country of orgin labelling, our caring Nat Gummit does not.  We are going out of our way to ensure our exported product is beyond reproach so our Chinese customers are not poisoned, yet we happily import their untested  products for our own citazens - how stupid are we?
 Go for the yummy garlic- grown in sewerage and whitened with chlorine.  Truly organic. 

Proper country of origin labelling can't come soon enough. How many of the big brand names do you see using the 'Made in xx from imported and local ingredients". You can bet your bottom dollar they source those ingredients based on price and price alone.
 
 

...ahh Kate your back! Thought you had gone fro good ....always give your comments a good read :)

yuck, just yuck.

And how much of the food is residue tested for pesticides, heavy metals, steroids etc on entering NZ?........Or locally grown produce?
How many products are returned back to China? Or other destinations?
Where is the Community and Public Health and MPI in all this? Food safety is part of their mandate? These glorious little Government bureaucracies - where are you? and why are you not doing your jobs?
 
 
 

I also dont understand why the majority of packaged seafood caught in NZ in supermarkets - is packed in China and sent back to NZ? How can this be cheaper than packing it here. Wondered why Tallys is closing processing plants just does not make sense?

I'm with notaneconomist.
Where is the New Zealand inspection service.  How do we know this is done (fearing it probably isn't.)
And we would want the testing done here.  By locals.  On our terms.  And not relying on certificates that come with them and other flimflam.
Oh.  And every test published on a website.

....  I reckon , if you're ingesting anything with " Made in PRC " on it's label , you're a more fearless gourmet than Bear Grylls ...
 

Those who want to push for a change in the law can start by joining a lobby group such as http://www.cool.org.nz/, and writing to their MP.
 
Yes, some will argue that with Horticulture NZ support, this group merely represents a domestic industry seeking protection against competition from overseas products, given that with full knowledge of country of origin, most consumers would prefer to buy stuff made and grown in NZ. Nonetheless, any tradeoffs in this area are worth it, I would say, given that health is paramount. Things are not perfect here, but we still do produce clean food compared to many parts of the world (e.g. banned pesticides not used, withholding periods respected, etc.).
 
Another interesting thing to look at is the current state of affairs around country of origin labelling as described by the ComCom (http://www.comcom.govt.nz/fair-trading/fair-trading-act-fact-sheets/plac...). The Food Standards Aus/NZ website is also interesting (http://www.foodstandards.govt.nz/consumer/labelling/coo/Pages/default.aspx).
 
On a personal note, my wife is shortly taking our two-year-old back home to central China for a couple of months, to meet his maternal grandparents and other relatives. She is very worried about food health and safety there, and will be taking as much critical non-perishable food as possible (such as milk powder, etc), to avoid getting these locally. She'll also be looking to find a local cow and sheep for meat and milk while in her hometown, so that at least she knows how these have been raised. One of the biggest issues for her is being laughed at and criticised for wanting to do things differently -- her father recently told her that she's forgotten where she came from and now has too high standards after being overseas for a decade.

In the wake of the "Fukushima catastrophy" Australia quite rightly restricted Japanese food imports from certain areas.  What did New Zealand do... Nothing!  Ironic that we should become a dumping ground for the gobal toxic food trade, given that we export perfectly good food ourselves.
perhaps you could draw an analogy to the financial sector.  The tier 1 auckland property market has also become a dumping ground, but this time for hot money from hedge funds, corrupt chinese communist party officials, and wealthy foreigners.   
A few people benefit, while the majority suffer.