Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chinese Consumers Discover Food Additives

Until the last decade or so, Chinese people ate few processed, packaged foods. The general culinary practice is to buy fresh vegetables and meat and cook everything from scratch. Since the late 1990s, supermarkets have displaced small vendors and processed foods have crept into the Chinese diet. These foods include many additives: colorings, preservatives, flavorings, binders, etc. that are chemicals. At the same time, Chinese factories have become major suppliers of many food additives for the entire world.

On June 24, The Peoples Daily carried an opinion article entitled, "Am I eating food or additives?" that is an indicator of this new food trend and perhaps a sign of the maturation of food safety regulation. The article appears to be calculated to make consumers aware of additives, to publicize new regulations and order local officials to implement them.

Here is a translation of the article:

"A milk drink my child likes has a new package that lists 10 kinds of food additives: lactic acid, sodium citrate, pectin, xanthan gum, propylene glycol alginate, Guar gum, aspartame…a strange series of chemical names that really makes me concerned. Are these things harmful to my child’s health?"

"This month, some government departments formally implemented 'Food additive production supervision management regulations' that cover food additive production, marketing, and use. Consumers have noticed that a sausage can have 11 kinds of additives, a small jelly can contain 14…how can food contain so many additives, am I eating food or additives?"

"You can’t blame the consumer for being worried about what’s added to food. There has been a series of scandals: melamine in milk powder, clenbuterol in pork, malachite green in fish…these things were all added illegally. Now there are lots of legal additives in food and people are concerned about whether they are harmful."

"Experts say food additives are not bad. Their regulated use is not harmful. Manufacturers say additives improve the appearance, taste, and sale of products. The problem is that many merchants add too many “profit-making additives”; for example, flavoring and thickening agents are added to milk and it’s sold as 'pure milk'; flavoring and soy protein are added to sausage and it’s called 'pure meat without starch'; orange juice is made without oranges using flavoring, pigment and sour agent and called '100% fruit juice.' It’s not just small businesses engaged in this; it’s also large companies. Many foods' color, smell, and flavor become 'artificially manufactured,' not only misleading the consumer, but also harming the common people’s health."

"Food package labels showing additives are undoubtedly a good thing. But just showing the names is not enough. Government departments should give the public specialized information. Most consumers are not experts and don’t understand these additives. Let consumers understand these chemical names and know what ingredients are necessary, which ones are harmful, which ones are forbidden. Then consumers can make rational choices and be scientific consumers."

"Food safety involves agriculture, health, inspection and quarantine, industrial and commercial, food and drug departments. The absence of any one could break the line of defense. Government departments must be coordinated, increase food oversight, and need to improve the standards system for conscientious companies to create a good market atmosphere."

"Eat healthy, eat without worries: this is not too much for consumers to ask. Reduce unnecessary additives!"

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