At a February 2, 2016 news conference, CFDA Vice Director Teng Guicai said testing of food samples showed that 3.8% had excessive traces of banned substances. He interpreted these results as indicators of a "prominent problem."
Teng said problems arise mainly from use of banned chemicals in farming, storage, and transportation of food. He specifically cited "lean meat powder", malachite green, and dicofol as problems. "Lean meat powder" is a colloquial term that refers to compounds like clenbuterol, ractopamine, and salbutamol that promote building of muscle in animals. Malachite green is an antimicrobial used in fish farming. Dicofol is a pesticide used to kill spider mites in crops. Teng also mentioned residues of several antibiotics--nitrofuran metabolites, chloramphenicol, and enrofloxacin, and two pesticides--fenvalerate, omethoate--as problems.
Inspector checks vendor at Beijing temple fair last week.
Another CFDA official at the news conference promised to work with the Ministry of Agriculture to address the problem using several strategies. One strategy is to continue testing food and use data to guide enforcement. Fruit, vegetables, livestock, poultry, aquaculture, and grains will be the focus. (That covers just about all the major foods but excludes edible oils. Other officials have raised concerns about toxic substances in cooking oils as well as the "gutter oil" problem, but these are not farm-level problems.)
A second strategy is to identify legal responsibilities of various enforcement agencies and coordinate their work. Qualifications for entering the food industry need to be raised, regulatory inspections will be conducted, and laws and regulations need to be enforced. Regulatory agencies, news media, companies and consumers all need to play their roles in food safety, the official said. CFDA promises to impose harsh penalties on malicious violators of laws and regulations.
The CFDA news conference contrasts with Ministry of Agriculture announcements of similar test results since it launched an action plan for safe food in 2002. At a March 2015 news conference a vice minister of agriculture cited testing results showing that "over 96% of samples" were compliant with residue standards as evidence of success in ensuring food safety. The CFDA official interpreted the same percentage--the "3.8%" failure rate--as evidence of a problem. The two officials interpreted the same number in opposite ways. Will the CFDA have a stronger orientation toward consumer protection than agricultural officials who have had the main responsibility for controlling use of banned veterinary drugs and pesticides? Will CFDA and MOA be able to successfully work together?
Meanwhile, Beijing food regulators brought a food-testing truck to the Longtan temple fair last week. They tested samples of chicken and lamb kebabs for moisture levels and presence of clenbuterol, ractopamine, and salbutamol. They claim to be able to do the tests in 40 minutes. The Legal News reporter tried to interview a food vendor at the fair but discovered that he had failed to acquire the mandatory health certificate required for food workers.