Thursday, May 3, 2007

Another Tale of Food Safety Challenges in China

Lots of people are thinking about China's food production practices these days after the melamine and wheat gluten stories made headlines. (See my earlier post on this subject.)

Today's Los Angeles Times has a story on honey production there.

FUFENG, CHINA — For two years, Sun Baoli has been trying to clean up the dirty honey business here. He's been met with nasty stings from bees, but those are nothing compared with the curses and punches from their keepers.

The 52-year-old entrepreneur paid the local government about $5,000 to rent part of a nature preserve teeming with nectar-filled acacia trees. He's been recruiting beekeepers to harvest on the grounds, and all he asks is that they follow a few simple health rules. First, no using antibiotics in their colonies; the drugs can make people sick. Second, no storing honey in metal containers; those can taint the sweet goo with toxic iron and lead.

Some 45 keepers have signed up. But many others are hostile to his efforts, which they see as a threat to their decades-old way of doing business on the cheap and making easy profits.

On Saturday night, as the first acacia flowers were starting to bloom, a gang of 15 local beekeepers ambushed Sun as he got out of his red Isuzu truck, beating him and leaving him with a mild concussion.

"It's going to take some time," he said with obvious understatement.

Honey and thousands of other Chinese food products are showing up more and more on dining tables around the world. Last year, China said it exported $3.8 billion worth of food to the U.S., including vast quantities of apple juice, garlic, sausage casings, canned mushrooms and honey.

In any given month, though, U.S. customs inspectors block dozens of Chinese food shipments, including produce contaminated with banned additives and pesticides as well as seafood tainted with drugs. In the wake of the recall of pet foods that U.S. regulators say contained tainted Chinese ingredients, China's food-safety standards have become dinner table conversation across the United States.

To read the whole article, follow this link to the LA Times article.