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Scarce, Scare, Scarred

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With all the negative quality issues, why do we insist on buying from China?

China successfully introduced another bit of jargon into our mainstream language: melamine.

Apparently, some enterprising people have decided to water down their milk products and add a few
percentage points on the milk’s tested protein content. (Superior quality milk usually has a protein content of 3.5% or better, among other things.) It remains unclear to date whether the tampering was triggered by a run for better prices, a desire to meet production deadlines, or both.
     
With the most recent food-safety scandal hitting China, we cannot help but discuss these issues. Lets face it, China has a very poor track record when it comes to food safety. But this isn’t about product bashing or blaming China. Despite the bad press, we want China to succeed.
     
China is one of the biggest industry players in international commerce and one of the biggest suppliers of raw materials, ingredients, finished products, and equipment in the global food market. If China fails, it will have massive repercussions in the global food market. With more than a fifth of the world’s population, almost a tenth of its arable land, and a huge chunk of the machineries and electronics industry, everyone on planet earth is connected to China in some way.
     
We can probably imagine a scenario where other countries can take up the slack; but if China loses it’s ability to earn in the world market and it’s economy plunges, the negative effect will be felt by the economies of neighboring countries and, most likely, even the global economy.
     
Why we are so dependent on China for our food supply?
     
The Philippines imports relatively little food from China; mostly just items we cannot produce ourselves, such as wheat, canned mushrooms and, of course, milk. However, a big chunk of food processing machinery (whole or in parts) are still manufactured in or through China. Visit your local showroom and check the metal labels. You will see that, chances are, the machines are made in China.
     
With all the negative quality issues, why do we insist on buying from China? One word: price. A good example is the wheat price hike at the end of 2007 when the US announced substantial damage to its winter wheat. Local prices of wheat were relatively stabilized by the supply from China.

Big Food Scare
The issue of food safety gained worldwide media attention during the melamine-contaminated pet food incident of 2007. The contaminated pet food not only put food safety issues under the global microscope, but also shone the light on popular products made in China, such as medicine, toothpaste, and toys.
     
Today, the five-year list of previously identified, potentially contaminated foods from China reads like an average household grocery list!
     
Mold-contaminated rice, antibiotic-laden catfish and shrimp (Well, at least no bacteria!), moldy garlic, Sudan red contaminated eggs (Sudan red is a potentially cancer-causing industrial dye), melamine-laced milk.
    
Melamine and contaminated protein products from China are not something new, with possible incidents going as far back as the massive kidney failure reported in pets in 2004. But this time, it’s different. This time, children are the ones who got sick. What’s worse is the contamination was done intentionally to make a product appear of better quality than it actually was.

Scarred Reputation

During and after the 2007 pet food incident, Chinese officials embarked on a massive campaign to assure the international community that it would be all out in improving its food safety program. The Chinese made great promises to improve their food safety systems. The international community truly wanted to believe that all would be well
     
Last year, China (via the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine) and the Philippines (through the Department of Health) agreed to strengthen food safety for imports and exports. The recent milk tampering incident seems to be an extreme violation of this agreement.
     
The question now is, after this recent incident, how forgiving will the international community be?

Print ed: 11/08

 

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