We all heard of all the food scandals in China but what is really going on! I would like to give you a little overview of why the food safety situation is as it is, by looking at some of the problems out of different perspectives: the government, the producer and the consumer:
In this huge country, the complicated administration of various ministries create a lack of responsibility and they conflict with each other. Regarding the food safety issues these are
- The ministry of Health
- Ministry of Agriculture
- AQSIQ (Administration of Quality, Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine )
To give on example on their conflict: the Day lily is declared as dry vegetable by one of the ministries, which means an indefinite pesticide residue is allowed. According to another ministry it is declared as non-dry vegetable, not allowing any pesticide residue. This gives companies dealing with the day lily a grey zone in which they will make them misuse the situation to their profit!
In the past, the government has no coordinated process to handle food safety problems. Therefore reactions on food safety issues are very slow. The issue is passed on from ministry to ministry and it takes very long to get to a conclusion. Apart of that, government people lack the real understanding of the issue, as they source their food from safe private farms for privileged.
Since Oct. 2015, the new food safety law launched and gives the full authority to CFDA (China Food & Drug Administration.) The centralization of power under CFDA makes the law enforcement effective and powerful.
The problem is that the government inspection was made on the bigger companies. Apart of that the main part and 80% of the market are 3.2 Million companies with up to 10 employees and 200 Million small farmers scattered all over China. They have no adequate standardization, limited knowledge on pesticides and toxicity; often they cannot read the labeling. And often, the low quality products are cheaper.
The new CFDA law is the most strict in history and has been implemented all over in China. For instance, in Shanghai, after the 3.15 Counterfeit Day, all restaurants in Shanghai that do not have licenses were removed from the delivery platforms.
Chinese customers lack the awareness of consumers rights, have limited rights and the little rights they have are not protected by law. Apart of that customers suffer of an information asymmetry which means they can only rely on what they see on the labeling of a package. If the labelling is not right, there is nothing they can do.
A survey from 2010 showed that 80% of the Chinese customers distrust the Chinese food safety in china but they cannot do not do anything against it, as activist groups are forbidden by law. So no collective action against cheating companies is possible.
This is why imported food is getting more and more popular in China and people are prepared to pay a high price for it.
People can report to CFDA directly if they discover food safety issues.