In discussing food security Premier Wen Jiabao and Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu have recently adopted the line, "Chinese peoples' rice bowl must be in the hands of Chinese people," to emphasize that foreigners cannot be trusted to feed China.
They may want to re-think that idea. Two more food safety scares--"cadmium rice" and "leather milk"--have surfaced this week. Scientists at Nanjing Agricultural University estimated that rice contaminated with the heavy metal cadmium is sold in about 10% of the markets in China. The Ministry of Agriculture plan for testing milk this year called attention to the practice of mixing toxic protein material extracted from leather products into watered-down milk.
Cadmium from industrial and mining waste is absorbed from the soil into rice kernels. Official testing identified excessive cadmium as early as 2002. A Nanjing Ag University professor and his team did their own testing of samples from various markets around the country and found results similar to those in 2002. The problem is widespread and more serious in southern China. It seems to mainly affect rural people. Rice from Nanjing markets was found to have excessive cadmium but the team said it came from outside the Nanjing region. "Super rice" is especially prone to contamination because its highly developed root system absorbs more from the soil. Acidic red clay soil in southern China poses a higher risk.
Potassium dichromate and sodium dichromate are chemicals used to soften leather. They contain a carcinogen. The chemicals are added to milk that has been watered down in order to pass tests for protein content.The cadmium has been linked to bone disease. People in some villages in Guangxi and Zhejiang have a strange condition where they lose use of their legs. Some have blamed the cadmium contamination for this but the link is not scientifically confirmed.
"Leather milk" problems were first discovered in Shandong in 2005 when the local commerce bureau declared that the market had been taken over by milk with protein powder added. The bureau said that milk with no illegal additives had a hard time entering the market. At that time the Shandong commerce bureau discovered over 28,000 contaminated milk products from 200 small milk producers. Its use in the feed industry was an open secret, often added to imported fish meal. In 2006, a nationwide check found 38 companies adding the protein chemical.
"Leather milk" also has been found in Shanxi and Hebei. A stockpile of "leather protein powder" was found in a Zhejiang dairy in 2009.
A Tsinghua University sociology professor remarked that Chinese society has deteriorated to a point where every industry has its self-centered methods. He calls it a systemic problem where depravity produces clever people who are counterfeiters by nature, lacking honesty, while real honest people suffer the consequences.
Maybe you shouldn't trust Chinese people with your rice bowl after all.