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Removing chemicals from our food

Recent studies show that food safety in China still needs improvement. Organic production is the answer, argues Jiang Gaoming. Here he explains how to make the shift.

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Environmental group Greenpeace recently tested vegetables purchased in supermarkets and markets in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou at a government-authorised independent laboratory in Qingdao. Traces of agricultural chemicals were found in 40 of the 45 samples that were tested, with a total of 50 different chemicals identified – five of which are classified by the World Health Organisation as highly toxic. One strawberry bought at a Beijing Wal-Mart contained 13 different agricultural chemicals.

This was not an isolated incident. Beijing Industrial and Commercial Bureau recently found levels of sulphites in seafood products produced by a well-known Hangzhou company that breached safety standards; a substandard batch of products has already been taken off the shelves. According to the National Business Daily, products from another four firms also failed to pass tests due to excessive levels of sulphites, sodium cyclamate, saccharin sodium and benzoic acid.

In the past two years alone, we have witnessed scandals over tainted pork and melamine-contaminated milk. People have lost their faith in food; they can only ask what there is left to eat.

To find chemicals in vegetables comes as no surprise, but the degree to which they were detected is shocking. And it is easy to identify these substances through testing, so how is it that they end up in the food chain? As a long-time observer of the food industry, I believe the following factors are to blame.

First, producers are only that: they are producers. They do not consume their own products. Farmers do not eat the vegetables they grow; they are sold to others. Chicken and pig farmers do not eat the meat they produce; they buy more trustworthy products at the market. But what if everyone thought that way? There is a joke about a vegetable farmer and a pig farmer who eat together: the former only eats the pork, the latter prefers to stick to the vegetables. Farmers do not use chemicals and fertilisers on the foods they grow for their own consumption. Farmers would be too ashamed to use their farmed chickens to feed their guests; they only sell those birds to the cities. But if you live in a city, you do not have a choice.

Second, higher quality products are more expensive to produce, and retailers are not interested. Agricultural authorities class products as organic, green, environmentally-friendly or standard; large differences in the cost of production are reflected in retail prices. A lack of oversight means that many products labelled “organic” or “green” are not what they purport to be. This means the costs are lower, but the profits are higher – so plenty of retailers are willing to play along, including large supermarkets.

Third, consumers cannot test products and can do nothing to control pesticide use. The new food-safety law allows consumers to claim up to 10 times the cost of a product in compensation if they discover it to be harmful, but consumers are unlikely to spend large amounts of money on third-party testing for the sake of a small reward. Consumers are clearly the weaker party in this transaction; they simply buy what the supermarket sells. The only hope is for the authorities to provide protection.

Fourth, there are major failings in agricultural production methods. Pesticides, fertilisers, herbicides, additives and agricultural membranes are the conventional weapons of modern agriculture. Now the authorities have popularised a new addition to the arsenal: genetically modified food. Out-of-season crops increase the levels of chemicals in foods. Intensive animal farming brings poultry to market in 28 to 45 days, pigs in 10 to 16 weeks. This battle against biology means our food is full of chemicals, hormones and additives.

Fifth, oversight is weak and unable to deal with food pollution at its source. Small-scale farming and numerous retail channels mean supervising food quality is problematic. Currently, testing is carried out at supermarkets and markets. But by that point the chemicals and additives are already in the food, and only a minority of products are taken off the shelves – the majority slip through the net. To keep the locals happy, local government play down major events and do not even report the small ones. Supervision by ordinary people is necessary to keep chemicals out of our food.

Sixth, scientists are not doing a good enough job. The confusing profusion of chemicals and additives is a new development. Scientists deliberately exaggerate the positive effects of their inventions and play down the negative impacts. Melamine was the “masterpiece” of a scientist without enough of a conscience. Yet the work of many chemists, biologists and agricultural scientists is focused on food production.

It would not be difficult to do away with the chemicals and adopt organic farming; the difficulty is getting a good price for good produce when our very food is traded by merchants who compete on cost. Relying on fines is inadequate: we need systems that supervise producers; that let consumers know where their food is sourced; and that allow third-party certification, with strict annual checks. Consumers should bear the costs of food produced in a healthy environment, in a voluntarily, market environment. If the number of genuinely organic products on the market were to increase, so would the demand for organic products.

We need food safety, and safe food must be produced in a healthy environment. We must gradually do away with chemicals, fertilisers, herbicides, agricultural membrane and genetically modified food. The costs and labour involved can be recovered through the sale of premium-priced organic foods, thus restoring the ever-deteriorating rural environment.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Who's support?

Hmmm. I'm often told to wash tea once (before drinking it). Sometimes I buy organic tea, but it's usually the more expensive type. I try to buy Tianfang (天方)from the Hualian supermarket in Wangjing. Yet, though they seem to make an excellent sales pitch, isn't costly, has a finer taste, I can barely find it in other stores. I often buy the so-called organic teas in the local markets. But they don't have a label on them, and the owners don't keep anything to prove to me where it's from. Then, these don't make up a large proportion of the market.
COSCO have even started doing a non-GM selling promotion on oil, which ought to show that food and beverage production is becoming more sensitive to sophisticated consumers.
I was in a more upmarket restaurant recently with a 30-page menu containing maybe 90 different dishes, but only one that was sold on being organic. I was taken aback to see even that.
Supermarkets and local markets cannot ensure the quality of their food. Then what hope that food at roadside stallls will be organic? The carts outside markets? Organic food needs popularizing, I so agree. But who'll do this exactly? When it will tread on so many toes? By: Hotstepper.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Vegetable garden for oneself

I perceived that in my hometown village many people is cultivating vegetables for themselves, they never buy vegetables at the marketplace; it’s not because they can’t afford buy, but on the contrary - many of them live the good life, even housewives are taking more care of family’s vegetable plot, using to the full extent limited space to grow beans, cucumbers, eggplants, tomato etc. Almost every day I can see mothers making children water the crops.

Translated by Katarzyna Wachowska

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




Organic Farming

Crop yields will drop sharply without the use of herbicides and fertilizer, an unacceptable consequence to farmers who rely on growing vegetables to make a living.

In the long term, so-called "organic food" is at best a luxury for a few rich people. As for the general public, frankly, we cannot afford it.

Translated by Tian Liang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



battery farmed chicken is really scary

This is a very vivid description of factory farming. I once visited the home of a chicken farmer and was utterly shocked. Hencoops were arrayed in packed rows around the edge of a courtyard. The chickens lie still in complete silence without any of the usual crowing and noise you'd expect. Their sole purpose in life is to eat constantly. In the centre of the yard, a few loose chickens were sluggishly wandering around. Some of them just fell over while trying to walk -- their legs were too thin to carry the weight of their bodies.
(Translated by Liu Yaqing)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




Cause growing fragile environment, all kinds of pests come into existance, pesticides were used widely,so,we have to "enjoy" these chemical substances now. To make money,people use shameful cultivation methods,and provide tainted food; more hospitals,more crematoriums,and more graveyards; Cause irresponsible governmental departments,the pollution havn't been controlled, illeagal food flows into market,the usual death incidents come one after another.

Translatede by Tian Liang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Remember to peel

I used to just wash things like apples, peaches and pears before eating them. Now, however, I've made up my mind to peel them as well. Even if the skins might be full of vitamins, I don't want to die a slow death from poisoning.

When you're cooking at home, don't forget those aubergines and squashes need peeling too.

Translated by Tian Liang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



While the priest climbs a post, the devil climbs ten.

I agree with NO.5. The more pesticide sprayed, the stronger pests' drug resistance gets. So what next? Well, we could start making even more toxic pesticides. But remember, they're resilient little buggers. Next to them, we can only hang our head in shame over our own capacity to adapt.

The fact that we use too much pesticide is a bitter pill that we're going to have to swallow in the end.

Translated by Tian Liang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




super-agricultural docking

In China,most food ingredients, including meat, poultry, egg, fruit and vegetables, are all suplied by the highly scattered peasants. The ingredients are then carried to the farmers' Markets where transactions would be done between a lot of vendors and customers. The scattered production model and numerous retail channels mean supervising food quality is problematic. “Super-agricultural docking” implemented by some large-scale supermarkets like WAL-MART can greatly relieve the problem mentioned above. The agricultural production methods of organic and green will be possible by setting up bases for producing or processing agricultural products.In the long term, the modern circulation system of agricultural products could be both environmental and healthy,and also can reduce the circulation cost of agricultural products.Concequently, implement the programme will benefit more enterprises.
(translated by Lei Wang.)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Organic Food, Who Can Afford It?

If all food was organic, how would normal people get by, who'd be able to afford it? Organic food is a long- term topic, and you can't just look to make a quick buck, shouldn't make healthy food the preserve of the wealthy- what of the poor? Other low- cost things should gradually be used to part ways with pesticide and fertilizer, such as transgenic crops with disease and pest- resistant properties, crop strains with a high capacity to use nitrogen and phosphorus, and so on. It is only these which are the most important ways to a solution at present.