Thursday, March 5, 2015

Rice--Next Overseas Shopping Item?

China's Ministry of Agriculture is desperate to head off rumors that its citizens are buying rice from Japan because they don't trust Chinese rice.

In January, news media reported that 160 metric tons (352,000 lbs) of Japanese rice had been exported to China during 2014, a 3-fold increase from 2013. Japanese rice is offered on Chinese e-commerce sites at ten times the price of Chinese rice. This is interpreted by some observers as a sign that Chinese citizens has lost confidence in their own rice.

The background for this is the discovery of widespread heavy metal contamination of soil in major rice production areas in Hunan Province. A merchant who sells Japanese rice on the Chinese e-commerce site Taobao explained its popularity: "Chinese rice farmers can use pesticides in the production process, and Japanese rice does not have the problem of contamination with heavy metals."
Ministry of Agriculture officials have spoken out to squelch the rumors that Japanese rice is "the next milk powder", i.e. the next food product that Chinese citizens try to buy overseas because they have no confidence in domestic products.

In January, the Ministry of Agriculture press office issued a statement by Bi Meijia, the Ministry's spokesman, arguing that it is illogical to conclude that Japanese rice imports reflected a lack of confidence in Chinese food products. As support for his argument, he cited the Ministry of Agriculture's monitoring data which found that 96% of agricultural products tested with compliant with standards.

Hello, Mr. Bi? Chinese people don't trust your opaque testing system which has been showing near-100% compliance for years while scandals about food contamination and bogus certifications pop up one after another.

Yesterday, at the National Peoples Congress, Vice Minister Niu Dun again tried to quash the notion that buying Japanese rice reflects a lack of confidence in Chinese products. Mr. Niu said his personal opinion is that Chinese people buy Japanese rice abroad for its taste, as a gift to bring back to family and friends. Niu said, as a consumer he would not choose Japanese rice.

Chinese news media noted that a number of domestic farmers have imported Japanese rice seeds to duplicate the product. The Japanese-type rice offered by one Chinese company is grown in Zhejiang Province's Changxing county which is also is a major manufacturing center for lead-acid batteries. The company's general manager reassures the public by proclaiming that his rice has passed government testing for lead, cadmium, mercury, pesticides and other chemicals.

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