Tuesday, December 18, 2007
It's Not Just China's Toys or Its Water or Its Air That's Poisonous
China may be poised to become the world's biggest economy but it's being hammered by environmental threats along the way. Combined, these threats may well be enough to derail China's economic miracle.
Well known by now are China's severe problems with water supply and quality, it's horribly polluted air, and all the problems detected in its exports. Now, according to Spiegel Online, word is getting out about China's poisonous food supply:
Chinese journalist Zhou Qing, a critic of the regime, unearthed political dynamite in his two-year investigation of China's food industry. He interviewed grocers, restaurant owners, farmers and food factory managers for an exposé for which he won a prize as part of the German "Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage" in 2006.
His book is a dark account of a ruthless food mafia that stops at nothing to maximize its profits, for example by using contraceptives to accelerate the growth of fish stocks, lengthening the shelf-life of cucumbers with highly toxic pesticide DDT, using hormones and poisoned salt in food production and putting absurd amounts of antibiotics in meat.
Zhou said uncontrolled greed had caused a food disaster of unimaginable proportions. "I can only warn you never to go in a restaurant." The danger of food producers being taken to task for their actions is slight. Everything disappears in China's endless bureaucracy, he said.
Zhou's claims may sound exaggerated, but they're borne out by recent developments. In early December the Shanghai city council slapped an export ban on products made by the Shanghai Mellin Food Company after cancer-causing substances were found in its pork products.
In July the former director of the state food and drug supervisory authority, Zheng Xiaoyu, was executed after being convicted of taking bribes to award licences for forged drugs, some of which had lethal side effects.
The children are the biggest sufferers, said Zhou. Poisoned baby food has led to severe diseases and physical deformities. Zhou writes that 200,000 to 400,000 people fall victim to poisoned food each year. A third of cancer cases, which are increasing at double-digit rates, can be attributed to food, he writes.
"Ordinary people don't know about it. If the people knew about it there would be a revolution. The wrath of the people would be unstoppable."
For thousands of years the power of China's rulers hinged on their ability to feed the people. "Revolutions aren't caused by political differences, they're caused by a lack of bread."