Food is an integral part of Chinese culture and as suggested by the Chinese saying “To people, food is heaven”(民以食为天), food supply issues have been at the foundation of social stability in China. The rapidly growing Chinese economy has led to a gradual change in focus from food supply to food safety. Food safety is the assurance that food will not cause harm to the consumer when it is prepared and consumed according to its intended use which now is a global issue that affects the health of populations in both developed and developing countries. And it is particularly important in heavily populated countries such as China. Rapid industrialisation and modernisation in China are having profound effects on food safety. There is no doubt that food additives issue plays an increasingly important role in food safety. However, there are many scandals are covered by the media.
One of the most widespread cases is Sudan I red dye. In 1996, China banned food manufacturers from using Sudan I red dye to colour their products. China followed a number of other developed nations in banning the dye due to its links to cancer and other negative health effects. However, officials in the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), the State Bureau of Industry and Commerce, and the State Food and Drug Administration discovered in 2005 that Sudan I was being used in food in many major Chinese cities. In Beijing, the Heinz Company added the red dye to chili sauce; in Guangdong, Zhejiang, Hunan, and Fujian, the red dye was discovered in vegetables and noodles. Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) used the red dye in its 1200 restaurants, and several medicines in Shanghai also contained Sudan I. And currently, in 2015, A video made by a Chinese customer become popular on Internet showing a commonly adopted way to turn boiled water into “high quality pork soup” for hot pot. Which is adding ethyl maltol, capsicum oleoresin, and Disodium 5’-ribonucleotide into boiled water; fake pork hot pot soup became ready to serve in 20 seconds. As some interested investigators digging deeper, facts about hot pot restaurants revealed to the public that most cooks using this way to control cost and even many cook training programs in China approved this kind of fraud because a few food producers want to lower costs and avoid expensive high quality materials, so they add more chemical food additives, to make food more savoury. And investigators even found adding antimalarial drugs into soup to cover the side effects of rotten meat is going to be a “common phenomenon” in little hot pot restaurants. In the same video, the customer also showed a common adopted method in China to make “beef balls” from bean powder by adding sodium pyrophosphate and sodium tripolyphosphate. All of these incredibly startling cases could lead to public health hazards, social distrust of the food industry, and loss of public confidence in the government and policymakers.
So, can we get rid of food additives? People always think food’s natural status without additives is better, but in terms of chemistry, it is unreasonable that we cannot conclude natural products are definitely safer than man-made chemicals, including food additives, says Ye Shuimao, an expert at Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ). And in fact, food additives would not threat food safety if people use it in a proper way. Further, if there are no food additives, we could not have food, such as bread, preserved for so long and tasty cookies and chocolates as well. Generally speaking, when we try to buy a biscuit in a supermarket, we can find many chemical names up to more than a dozen which are various food additives; because in China manufacturers are pursuing many properties that natural things simply cannot meet the need. For example, they want the food to keep longer, to taste better, and the ingredients to combine together well, all at the same time. So, it is impossible to achieve it without using food additives. Thus, the critical point of this issue is not food additives themselves, but actually their abuse and poor regulation.
What should Chinese government do next? Firstly, they should show the determination to reform laws, implement effective and timely measures to address food safety problems, through improvements in food safety monitoring and surveillance by strengthening food safety regulation system. For instance, government could establish a food tracking system, in this way, weak links in protection of food safety can be readily identified. As well, building a regulatory system with a clear chain of command and division of labour among different regulatory sector is deemed feasible. Likewise, it is essential to introduce advancement of technologies to enable rapid and accurate measurement of food safety indicators. But food safety in China involves a range of complicated and multidimensional issues. In terms of establishing a food tracking system, there are millions of small foods producers and enterprise across China making any inspection measures difficult to implement. So, the solution may rely on raising people’s awareness of food safety. For example, government could provide assistance and training to these small enterprises, particularly by training them with private sector developers of standardised food safety tests. With support from regulators, these developers might play a part in training food industry personnel to comply with government policies, whilst providing safety tests and certifications for the wide range of small food producers and enterprise. Also, we as consumers should keep it in mind that cheaper food with too many low-quality food additives are not a wise choice. We should avoid buying these foods in order to push food producers, enterprises and food additive manufacturers to improve their products. Overall, food safety in china still has a far way to go; Chinese government has made an effort on improving food safety. I do believe that there will be greater improvements in next few years.