Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Negligible Risk, Maximum Hysteria for Imported Foods in China

A country that hides poisoned soil, keeps food supplies secret, covers up animal diseases and is unable to count farmland, crops, or animals says it is tracking millions of imported food shipments with anal precision. A government that once covered up toxic infant formula until the 2008 Olympics were over is now sounding an alarm about the dangers of imported food.

China's customs administration said last month they have discovered traces of the COVID-19 virus in 79 out of 1.49 MILLION samples taken from packages of imported frozen food since last year. That suggests a 0.0056 percent chance of encountering a virus. The chances of encountering a live virus are even lower, since most of these samples appear to have detected inactive remains of viruses.

Authorities said:

  • They had suspended imports from 129 foreign suppliers in 21 countries. 
  • A further 110 companies had voluntarily stopped shipping to China. 
  • Border inspectors have disinfected 18.98 million shipments of imported frozen food arriving at Chinese ports. 
  • Videoconferences and teleconferences have been held with counterparts in 108 countries. 
  • Spot checks were conducted of 199 foreign processing facilities in 55 countries. 

Chinese State TV explains that imported cold chain food must have tests of outer packaging, inner packaging and the product itself. People working with imported cold chain food must have a nucleic acid test every 7 days. 

Domestic foods are not checked, even though there have been news reports of at least two incidents of COVID contamination of food from poultry processing plants in China with no apparent connection to imports. 

These strict measures were inspired by directives issued by Xi Jinping, customs officials said. 

In December 2020, China's Market Supervision Bureau launched a sprawling system to track imported frozen food from ports to supermarkets and to segregate imported food in warehouses and on retail shelves. The tracking system requires that shipments be accompanied by a nucleic acid test report, a disinfection report, batch number, exporter and importer information, port of entry, and the route taken from port to retailer. 

The data must be uploaded into an "imported cold chain food tracking platform" before it can leave a warehouse. A QR code must be available at the point of sale for consumers to scan with their cell phone so they can view the information. 

The system in Quanzhou, a city in Fujian Province, requires that information about the truck and driver's COVID test results be included, and information must be reported to city authorities 24 hours before entering a warehouse. The shipments must have permits to enter and exit one of the city's 378 cold storage facilities. Quanzhou has tracked 740 batches of imported food with the system. They have discovered 124 illegal shipments, taken 6,480 kg of food off shelves, and arrested 5 people. 

In Jiangsu Province's Yizheng City, a separate warehouse for imported frozen food was opened last month. 

At a warehouse in Nantong, a city in Jiangsu Province, a wholesaler showed the reporter that he could click on shipments of Uruguayan and Argentina cattle vertebrae and show all the tracking information, allowing consumers to see the source of imported meat and seafood products. 

In Dalian City, a port in northeastern China, there are 13 regulations and work programs associated with disinfection, testing, tracking, and segregation of imported food. 

Inspectors check a Beijing supermarket's imported products for
compliance with the city's tracking system.

In Beijing, district market supervision inspectors visited supermarkets last month to verify that imported foods were stocked on shelves separate from other products and displayed QR codes. The tracking system focuses on frozen meat and seafood, but the Beijing report noted that products such as frozen noodles, cheese, butter, ice cream, frozen juice, and frozen fruits and vegetables were included in the tracking system.

Any products in Beijing not in the system had to be removed from shelves and destroyed by February 12. Although tracking of products stored above 0 degrees C is not mandatory, inspectors advised supermarket managers to include them anyway as a reassurance to consumers. One manager of a supermarket in Beijing's Chaoyang district said his store had 100 imported dairy products stored at 2 to 4 degrees C. In Fengtai district, imported fruit such as kiwi, avocado, longan, and jackfruit had the QR code for the tracking system. 

Inspectors in Fengtai district recommended that stores include cherries in the tracking system--although they are not frozen--to reassure consumers after the virus was reportedly discovered on cherries in Jiangsu Province. Cherries must be placed where they cannot contaminate other products in the store. 

The Washington Post reported that the price of cherries imported from Chile has plummeted after the report of contamination. Young consumers who normally can't afford imported cherries are taking advantage by gorging on them up while the price is low. 

An official in Nantong, Jiangsu explained that the tracking system for imported food is entirely transparent. It enables authorities to determine where the shipment came from and where it went if a "problem" arises, the official said. What he didn't say is that no testing of facilities, products, workers or sleuthing has ever turned up any additional evidence of the virus in any case when a contaminated shipment was detected. The system--and the official news media reporting about it--stirs up hysteria among consumers over a negligible risk, imposing large costs on exporters and merchants who handle imported food to prevent a negligible risk. It has no actual benefit except to assuage concerns of consumers who have little or no confidence in the food safety regulatory system. 

1 comment:

Godfree Roberts said...

America, too, is a country that hides poisoned soil, keeps food supplies secret, covers up animal diseases and is unable to count farmland, crops, or animals