When thousands of diseased pig carcasses floated down Shanghai’s Huangpu river in March, the world watched agog.
The reality, however, is that this is only one of a staggering number of food safety scandals to have rocked Chinese consumers in recent years. Add the recurrent cases of baby milk treated with industrial chemicals, rat meat disguised as lamb, and rice tainted with cadmium, and its easy to understand why the Food Safety Exhibition in Beijing is such a popular event.
Held as part of a nationwide Food Safety Week, participants at the trade show ranged from research institutes to food testing companies. Zhu Wei, marketing director at Syscan, was one of the many selling devices that test for dangerous chemicals.
He explained the how his apparatus works, and why it is important:
“Our testing device can test the seeds, the fertiliser and the vegetables of farmers. Without damaging the product, we can run the test to guarantee its quality. In terms of food production, we can quickly find out if there are any additives or existing secondary pollutants. Then we can ensure the safety of the food served on the tables of common people.”
Elsewhere, US supermarket chain Walmart provided one of the trade show’s main attractions, with a van equipped with testing devices capable of detecting pesticides and other harmful chemicals.
Visiting a food safety exhibition might not sound a particularly appetising way of spending your free time, but China’s rapid modernisation has had profound effects on food supply, making food safety a big public issue. As Liu Li, a regular visitor to the event, explained: “Food safety has become a prime concern. Once a company’s products are safe, consumers will recognise the brand. Both the company and business will benefit from it.”
Despite the perennial problems of pollution and mounting fears at the country’s stuttering economic growth, food safety has become a central challenge for China’s new leader, Xi Jinping.
Determined not to let it undermine his administration, more than 8,000 people have been arrested for food safety crimes since January this year.