‘Cadmium Rice’: China’s Latest Food Scandal

On Saturday and after much public outcry, food safety authorities in the southern province of Guangzhou released the names of rice producers whose products were found to contain cadmium, a toxic heavy metal. The Global Times reports:

The move by the Guangzhou Food and Drug Administration came after public demand for the information. Of 18 batches of rice tested during random quarterly checks, eight were found to contain excessive amounts of the heavy metal. The metal is known as a strong carcinogen, and can cause pathological changes in the kidneys and other organs.

The names of the producers of the eight substandard batches were released late Saturday. Six are in Hunan Province, while two others are in Dongguan.

However, an administration press officer told China National Radio on Saturday that the range of tested products was narrow, so the results do not represent the overall situation in Guangzhou.

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Initially, authorities withheld the brand names and locations where the tainted rice was produced. After a barrage of netizen pressure, that information was made public, along with information as to what establishments were found to have the toxic product. From the South China Morning Post:

These [restaurants and cafeterias] included the Guangzhou Taiyang Seafood Restaurant in Liwan district, the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, the Yannanfei Restaurant in Haizhu district and the Zhongkai University of and Engineering.

[…]The incident, the latest in a seemingly endless series of food scandals, prompted a nationwide outcry over food safety and the perceived lack of transparency of the government’s handling of the issue on Friday.

[…]More than 100,000 internet users posted comments on major internet portals such as Sina and Soho on Friday urging the government to name the brands involved.

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In a blogpost deeming “cadmium rice” China’s latest food scandal, the New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow reports further on netizen reactions to initial state-media reports on this recent cadmium scare, and on the health effects of cadmium exposure:

Xinhua offered this practical, if short-term, advice, as did People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece: “Experts recommend that people should not consume food and drink from one particular region for long, instead they should diversify to lower the risk.”

That prompted some hilarity online, with netizens marveling that the party newspaper would offer such advice. “That’ll ensure that everyone gets their share of cadmium,” remarked someone called Ning Fushen, in a post on Sina Weibo.

[…]Cadmium, a known carcinogen, builds up in the body and damages the kidneys and lungs and can cause bone disease. Ingestion via food is the main source for nonsmokers, while smokers’ intake may be twice that of nonsmokers, according to the Web site www.cadmium.org.

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Amid this food safety probe and the bruised confidence of Chinese consumers, Bloomberg reports that sales of Hunan-produced rice are plummeting as many increasingly look to imports:

Rice traders in Hunan reported sales dropping by more than half from a year ago since media reports of the pollutant in began appearing, Cngrain.com said on its website. The researcher, which is owned by China Grain Reserves Corp., a custodian of government food reserves, didn’t provide figures for the drop in sales.

The Nanfang Daily first reported in February that rice from Hunan sold in southern Guangdong province contained excessive levels of toxic metal and the Guangzhou Food and Drug Administration reignited concerns with reports on its website last week. It is a blow to farmers in the region because sales of indica rice, a long-grain variety consumed in southern China and used for milling and brewing, were already being hurt by low-cost imports, Zhang Zhixian, analyst of Cngrain.com, said by phone from Zhengzhou in central China.

Consumers in some areas may become more willing to buy imported rice, said Li Qiang, chairman at Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. China’s quota system for imports will limit any increase, he said.

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Contaminated rice is not a new problem in China, and is one of many food products to be the at the center of safety scandals. The Chinese government, often criticized for lacking or laxly enforcing public health regulations, has recently launched a crackdown on “meat-related crimes.” In the private sector, moves are being made to consolidate quality control in the dairy industry, a field long riddled by food safety scandals.

May 21, 2013, 11:27 AM
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Categories: Economy, Society