Chinese Press Controls and Food Safety

According to the Economist, although the Chinese government has recently announced increased press freedoms, the Propaganda Department still controls news over food safety.

Journalists had to be mindful of long-standing, but mostly secret, orders from the Propaganda Department about reporting food-safety issues. The Economist has seen a directive issued by a provincial propaganda bureau. Circulated in January 2005, it bans the media from naming any suspect food product until a “clear verdict” has been reached by the authorities. There are to be no exposés of safety problems concerning famous Chinese food brands or food products for export without official approval. For imported food, approval must come from Beijing. If it causes poisoning, only Xinhua, the official news agency, may break the news and even its reports must be approved by the Propaganda Department and the foreign ministry.

In related news, there have been several Chinese product safety issues over the past week.  Malaysia has lifted its blanket ban on Chinese-produced amonium bicarbonate. This baking agent had earlier been banned due to high levels of melamine, which was found in amonium bicarbonate produced by three Chinese companies. The products of these companies are still banned from import.  (For more information, see CDT’s previous post.)

Meanwhile, melamine was also recently found in Chinese egg products in South Korea.  Five products were effected.  The South Korean Agriculture Ministry has banned the further import of the product and is taking steps to destory the rest.

Finally, in related news, Chinese skin cream has been recalled after being discovered to contain a dangerous steroid hormone:

[The hormone, clobetasol propionate] can cause changes in blood sugar and can lead to Cushing’s syndrome, a disorder characterized by a moon-shaped face, emotional disturbances, and in women, abnormal growth of facial and body hair… A report in Xiaoxiang Morning News in central China said that an eight-month-old girl in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, had appeared to menstruate after being given the cream for seven months. (Image courtesy of Epoch Times)

See also more CDT posts on food safety and tainted exports.