Saturday, February 02, 2008

Chinese Frozen Food

A suspicious mind asks the question : what is this about, really?
Concern mounts in Japan over Chinese-made food

TOKYO— Japan on Friday warned China that its reputation was on the line as companies rushed to recall Chinese-made food after hundreds of Japanese said they fell ill from dumplings.

At least six major foodmakers ordered recalls of frozen and prepared foods that were suspected to have been produced at the same Chinese factory in Hebei province behind the food safety crisis, company officials said.

Big household names including Ajinomoto, Glico, Katokichi and Kibun recalled more than 30 dishes effective Friday including Chinese-style stir-fries, skewered and barbecued pork, beef tongue and curries.

China -- Japan's largest trading partner and second biggest supplier of imported food -- has said it found no pesticide in the dumplings as alleged in Japan but pledged an investigation.

Japanese officials warned that China needed to be thorough.

China "must exert all its efforts to make sure this will not trigger sentiment in Japan against products made in China," Trade Minister Akira Amari said.

Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said separately: "We can limit the negative impact on Japan-China relations to a minimum if both countries cooperate to investigate the cause and to deal correctly with any recurrence."

As supermarkets pulled the suspect food from shelves, the scare even spread to Japan's military which, despite sometimes fraught political relations with Beijing, bought frozen pork cutlets from the same Chinese factory.

Although no illnesses were reported, Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba ordered officials to comb through army kitchens and throw out any suspicious food...
Let us go through the list.

- The Sankei Shimbun is Right! - At the end of the day, the Chinese government cannot be trusted. The factory producing the suspect frozen foods belongs to a state-owned company, right? Either the Chinese government's inspections systems are incompetent or in cahoots with the manufacturers. We have been daft to entrust any portion of our food supply to the Chinese.

Corollary: Fukuda Yasuo is a fool. Yasukuni sampai forever!

- It's the Olympic Year, Baby! - With every stop being pulled out to make the Beijing Olympics a success, the Chinese government is vulnerable to the least bit of bad news. The first few months of 2008 are your last chance to inflate every single little incident out of proportion in order to leverage as many concessions out of the Chinese as possible.

Corollary: we will gladly host your Olympic teams for the weeks up until the actual competitions.

- You see what happens when we globalize our agricultural markets? -We put little children into comas, that's what happens. Because when we produced all our own foodstuffs, nothing like this ever happened.

- We Love to Have Panics! - Every night our media directs us to a new person or development to fear. Sometimes we just cannot get ourselves excited about what the government and the media are ginning up. But sometimes the danger is so random, so banal and so in line with our prejudices (against prepared food, against the Chinese Communist Party) that the whole populace can join together in a cathartic burst of paranoia.

- Hey, Japan Tobacco, We Own You! - The big culprit on the home side is Japan Tobacco, the formerly state-owned monopoly whose shares are still held in large measure by the Japanese government. JT has been trying to find new ways to make money, given that its main product suffers from a declining customer base (technically, the product kills the customers) . First, if you are going to damage the health of your customers through selling them poisonous agricultural products, you will damn well do so only from the approved list of poisonous agricultural products, capiche? And what is a Japanese public-owned company doing employing Chinese subcontractors to make food for the Japanese market, anyway?


Anonymous said...

There are two categories of consumer stories about China in Japan. The first is called “I can’t believe it’s not great” and deals with imported products that fail to meet required standards. The recipient nation has to adopt a remarkable posture to pull this off this bit of finger-wagging. It is not enough to simply wag the finger, it must contort its entire body and thinking like so: having exported its manufacturing industry to a nation where labour is cheap (Chinese factory workers are paid one-tenth the amount of those in Japan) and regulations and inspections lax, the recipient nation then must feign total surprise when the goods turn out to be of inferior quality to those produced at home. This posturing is hilarious to all except those who do it: an absolute majority of consumers in countries such as Japan.

I'm pleased to be able to say that I covered this story months before it broke. the rest is here. Sorry for the blatant self-promotion.

Anonymous said...

"Hey, Japan Tobacco, We Own You! - The big culprit on the home side is Japan Tobacco, the formerly state-owned monopoly whose shares are still held in large measure by the Japanese government. JT has been trying to find new ways to make money, given that its main product suffers from a declining customer base (technically, the product kills the customers)"

I've never understood why this isn't a bigger deal, given the high level of public health care in Japan. I mean, there weren't even reasonable warnings on the cigarettes until a couple of years ago.

But really, I'd say the Sankei article is pretty muted. Did you follow the fracas about lead-tainted toys from China in the US?

Christopher said...

There may be a further aspect to the hysteria. The Japanese authorities are scrambling to show the public they are serious about food security: i.e. the stuff that they allow in the country is safe to eat.

Ooops! Oh no! Pesticide scare! Maybe people are going to think the food is not so safe. What to do...?

How about a PR blitz orchestrated by our media mouthpiece, NHK?

And so, last night NHK seemed to be all "Look at our scientists mashing up dumplings and testing them. How thorough! And professional! And wonderful! Rest easy, everyone. We are on the job! Really." all the time.
I think there was some stuff about baseball but that was in the sports section.

The use of pesticides to clean the food processing machinery reminds me of a story I read about an elderly USA volunteer (a retired agricultural scientist, I believe) in Mozambique. He went to the market and noted how the flies were swarming over the freshly cut chunk of beef on the table. He suggested to the butcher that he should do something about the flies. Later the volunteer returned to the butcher shop and noticed there were no flies. He asked the butcher what he had done and the guy takes out his can of Raid. {Could this have been on Snopes?} Anyway, it may illustrate the law of unintended consequences.

The Chinese themselves are under pressure from places with cheaper labour. The factory in question probably does not have the most educated workforce. The workers may have not understood the dangers posed by possible contamination.