Southern Weekend: Special Organic Food Supply for Officials Only

The following article was published by Southern Weekend on May 5, and details special organic food supplies that are available for government officials only. With food safety issues a major concern that Chinese citizens contend with in their everyday life, the story was pulled from the the newspaper’s website and propaganda officials have ordered other media not to report on it. CDT thanks the translator, who wishes to remain anonymous:

Surrounded by two-metre high walls and watched over by five security guards, the “customs shed” would be a struggle to find without the help of local people. You would be even less likely to realise that it supplies vegetables for Beijing’s customs authorities. The site – full name Beijing Customs Vegetable Farm and Country Club – covers 200 mu of land (around 130,000 square metres) in the outlying Beijing district
of Shunyi.

According to an informed source, the farm has been working with the Beijing customs authority, its sole customer, for 10 years. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, a customs truck comes to the farm to pick up a load of at least several thousand kilograms of produce.

This is just one of many examples of food being produced specifically for government use. Southern Weekend understands that the customs authorities are not the only department to have a farm in Shunyi, and that some provincial level departments also source their food this way.
These foods, grown to government order, are genuinely green, and safety is put first.

On May 1 this year, I gained access to the closely guarded customs farm and counted 64 vegetable sheds, arranged in neat rows. In the workers’ huts at the entrance to each shed hung safety signs warning employees to leave a safety interval between applying pesticides and picking the produce.

I saw workers removing cucumbers from the vine and eating them without even washing or peeling them.

To avoid chemical pollution, the farm uses organic manure as fertiliser. Where pesticides are applied, they too are biological and a period of quarantine is enforced. “If that period hasn’t finished in time, we’ll let the vegetables rot rather than pick them,” said one employee.

The practice of growing special foodstuffs for the government is not limited to Beijing, nor is the produce confined to fruit and vegetables.

One method of doing this is for local authorities to select particular farms to supply all produce to their canteens. One academic, who did not wish to be named, told Southern Weekend that two years ago, while eating at the canteen in Shaanxi Higher People’s Court, he was told that the court had its own farm 30 kilometres outside of Xi’an, and specifically employed someone to ensure the harvests were free of toxins
and other harmful substances.

While governments in Shaanxi and other places may only grow vegetables, this is not the case everywhere. The training unit of a Guangdong government department, for example, has been employing locals to plant vegetables and raise pigs, fish and poultry for over a decade.

If they are unable to have their own farms, major government departments will do their best to choose reliable suppliers. After phoning 103 suppliers of food to the Beijing Olympics, Southern Weekend found that some of them are still working closely with government departments.

Mr Sun of Beijing Liuminying New Century Farms has supplied eggs to the Beijing Asian Games, the 2008 Olympics and major political meetings including Beijing’s annual parliamentary session. He said that, ever since government-appointed experts approved his farm’s water, fodder and air quality, he has been working directly with Beijing authorities and has now been providing food to central leadership for more than 10 years. The fodder and rearing conditions at his farm are better than normal.

Mr Liu, another egg producer from Shandong Linyi Sanyi Poultry and Livestock told Southern Weekend that his company started working with local government in 2004, and provides the authorities with 300 tonnes of eggs each year. Qin Jiahuai, general manager at another Shandong firm, Weishanhu Lotus Foods, said his company sells duck eggs to a bureau of the State Council – China’s highest administrative body – and has done so for a decade.

The head of technical services at Hubei Shenzhou Health Foods revealed that, as well as selling quail eggs on the open market, his firm has been making weekly deliveries to the canteen of the provincial Communist Party committee for three to four years.

Also in Hubei, Guobao Qiao Rice – part of the Jingshan Light Industry Group – sells part of its output in bulk to authorities such as the provincial government, the grain bureau and the agricultural bureau. Qiao Rice is a strain unique to Jingshan county and is of superior quality.

Far away in China’s north-eastern province of Liaoning, Dandong Qianyang May 4th Farm produces Yuegang rice, known as the “king of rice”. Company official Yao Chenghai told Southern Weekend that the taste and quality of the rice mean it is trusted by government departments, and three years ago local government, commodities inspection authorities and customs authorities started purchasing part
of its produce. The company has also had past dealings with Beijing government departments.

The system of privileged food started 50 years ago with a report on the provision of non-staple foods to Beijing’s senior officials and intellectuals, written by the then vice-secretary of the State Council Qi Yanming and circulated by the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee on July 30, 1960. The original document said that “extra consideration” should be given to such foodstuffs but, by the time it was
sent around, the wording had been changed to “special provision”, a mysterious phrase that elicited envy elsewhere.

An informed source told Southern Weekend that Jushan Farm at the foot of Beijing’s Western Hills is an important source of fruit and vegetables for senior national leaders.

Jushan Farm is part of the Capital Agriculture Group, and lies within a zone with special environmental protection in Beijing. Testing by the Ministry of Agriculture and Beijing Environmental Monitoring Centre has found that the farm’s water, air and soil quality all meet the highest national standards.

One source who has been involved in the special provision of vegetables for many years said that as well as being provided to government canteens, some of the foods from Shunyi Shunyan Special Vegetables Farm are eaten at the homes of officials. This farm – a demonstration project for organic vegetable growing – has been identified as a model of agricultural standards by the National Standardisation
Committee and visited by national leaders.

The source revealed that every week a load of 14 types of vegetables, weighing several thousand kilograms, is delivered. “So far, our tests haven’t shown up any problems.” To ensure quality, the Ministry of Agriculture sends testing teams from other provinces such as Shaanxi and Shandong, while the local agriculture and quality authorities carry out random tests in order to make sure there are no slips.

Vegetables on this farm are monitored as closely as the personnel. “Files are kept on when they’re planted, who looked after the seedlings, who transplanted them out to the field, who applied pesticide and for how long, what day they can be safely picked, who picked them . . . it’s all there to be checked,” the source said.

According to a copy of the “Annual Quality and Safety Assessment of Special- Provision Agricultural Products (Companies)” obtained by Southern Weekend, any problem with the environment, process or quality of production will result in special provision status being lost.

To make quality supervision of these products easier, in September 2002 the Beijing Municipal Agriculture Committee established a centre specifically to manage this task. High-ranking officials at the district and county level were made responsible for quality and safety and put in charge of organisation, coordination and management of special-provision foodstuffs, with the task of ensuring safety, quality, supply and
secrecy.

It is also possible for a farm to lose its special-provision status. On July 5, 2004, the Beijing Municipal Agricultural Committee released details of its system for monitoring the quality and safety of special-provision foods. The eighth article of the document specified that suppliers would be actively monitored and subject to annual inspections by the committee’s experts. Any farm to fail these checks twice in a row would lose the right to provide these foodstuffs.

Although the requirements are strict, farmers interviewed still hope to be chosen to be part of the system. “Once you’ve been selected, you have both reputation and capital – and you don’t have to worry about selling your products.”

[Published in Southern Weekend on May 5, 2011.

Lu Zhongshu is a reporter at Southern Weekend. Newspaper interns Zhang Qing, Zhu
Yang and Shen Nianzu also contributed to this article.]

Rumors about special food supplies for officials have persisted in China in recent years, as various food safety scandals have demonstrated the problems with China’s food supply chain. See also, from CDT:
- “Does “The State Council Party and State Organizations Special Food Supply Center” Really Exist?
- “China’s Tainted Food Products Only Harm the Average People, High-Ranking Officials Have Their Own Specially-Supplied Food Sources
and an article about special food supplies for Olympic athletes in Beijing in 2008.