China now buys more new cars, PC computers and smartphones than any other country. But despite such material gains, Chinese should never expect their government to guarantee a food supply as safe as that of the U.S., European Union or Japan.
This was the message delivered by Wang Zhutian, assistant director of China’s National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, at a July 10 press conference about the government developing new food-safety standards. A reporter asked: When will China implement food-safety standards equivalent to those in developed countries?
Wang offered a rambling answer in which he noted that his agency -- which is chartered, in part, to develop national food-safety standards -- has taken a close look at how standards work in developed countries. However, due to China’s status as an emerging nation, he said, “We must formulate our own standard based on our ‘national condition.’”
Aren't food-safety regulations, in any country, theoretically devised to protect human health, regardless of “national condition”? Why should China be different?
“As a simple example,” Wang offered. “If we were to apply the EU’s air quality standards to Beijing, we’d fail daily.”
In other words: It seems that the only thing worse than inadequate food-safety regulations are regulations that highlight the government’s inability to guarantee protections for its citizens.
The “national condition” when it comes to the Chinese food supply is a constant and abysmal record of criminality and regulatory incompetence. This year alone has brought a poisonous fake lamb scandal, a thousands-of-dead-pigs-in-a Shanghai-river scandal and -- just days ago -- news that in May police busted a ring marketing chicken feet that were 46 years past their sell-by date.
At this point, few Chinese probably believe that their government is capable of guaranteeing a safe food supply regardless of declarations to reform. The scandals are too many; the mistrust of the corruption-laden Communist Party runs too deep. But Wang’s claim that the government won’t even try to meet standards set by countries it considers global rivals is a benchmark in what's becoming a sad era of diminished expectations.
(Adam Minter is the Shanghai correspondent for the World View blog and a contributor to the Ticker. Follow him on Twitter.)