Food safety has become a primary concern in the contemporary society. It refers to the state in which food is free from any hazard which would possibly classify it as unfit for human consumption. The global society has all along been struggling to ensure food security for everybody. However, such efforts have adversely been thwarted by the compromised standards of food safety in a number of countries, particularly in China. From production to consumption, food normally passes through several processes which may subject it to contamination. It is noted that the People’s Republic of China has been on the front line of the fight against food shortage. Furthermore, the country has been rated as one of the pioneer nations which instigate the production of transgenic foods, using genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Nonetheless, China’s standards of food handling have been largely faulted by the international community. At the production stage, food crops in China are usually protected from predators with the help of pesticides and/or insecticides as well as other chemical substances. The practice is often aimed at improving the health and encouraging the growth of food crops. However, in most cases, the end product contains toxins, which render the food unsafe. Similar consequences have been reported at such stages of food production as processing and manufacturing, where food stuffs become hazardous because of some additives and preservatives. Trading activities related to food as well as food storage and preservation methods have equally been deemed the areas in which food products are susceptible to harmful conditions that cause contamination. Thus, this paper explores the issue of food safety in China. In this respect, it examines the challenges of genetically modified foods, bad productions environment as well as food storage and transportation issues that arise in the country. Finally, the paper examines incidents of food poisoning in China.
Challenges of Genetically Modified Food Products in China
People both in China and outside the country are concerned about the widespread production of genetically modified food. They realize that the food they are consuming now is no longer what they used to eat several years ago. This sudden change in food production has been attributed to the perpetual progress in a number of technologies used in the food industry in China. Farmers together with genetic engineers have resolved to adopt new ways of producing food regarding them as economical means of production (Zhou and Jin 41). As a result, innumerable issues pertaining to the methods of food production as well as the effects and possible risks that are coupled with them have arisen. However, the impact the GMOs can have on human health or the harm that may be caused because of the application of the technology is still unclear. Nonetheless, scientists around the globe have warned of uncertain dire consequences which consumers of the genetically modified food should be prepared to face. The potentially hazardous implications of GMOs for the health of consumers are also closely associated with ethical and moral concerns (Oosterveer and Sonnenfeld 49).
Basically, genetic modification of food is the science of cloning food crops for animal and human consumption. Contrary to organic foods, transgenic products are modified in laboratories to improve their nutritional content as well as coming up with the preferred traits opposite to the natural ones. Genetic modification of food is done through genetic engineering, which entails artificial alteration of genes through the dissection of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) (Silver 5). Such DNA determines the size of crops, rate of growth, etc. (McBeath and McBeath 68). Genetic engineering often aims at replicating various traits within an organism which is subject to the gene transfer, enabling engineers to shift the same genes between different preferred species. It is usually argued that DNA extracted from various organisms is fundamentally identical because it is usually synthesized from similar materials. Nevertheless, with regard to the food context, a number of moral and ethical issues usually arise pertaining to the location where these particular genes are derived from. In particular, there are situations when labeling of food packages has not been appropriately done. In addition, there have been several health issues related to GMOs in China.
Following the legalization of the sale of genetically modified foods without proper examination of possible risks to health, the hazards coupled with GMOs have become an issue of increasing concern in China as well as in the international community. Some studies have revealed that there is a great likelihood that genetically modified foods involve the relocation of unidentified proteins from one type of food to another. The process has the potential to cause allergy in consumers. The creation of new toxins and allergens is just one of the innumerable negative impacts that have been addressed so far. For instance, scientists have disclosed that a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), that has consistently been spread over thousands of acres of cotton, potato and corn fields, has a great capability to make people suffer from allergies (Silver 3). In spite of that, there has been a big health concern related to the marker gene in China. This is an antibiotic which is found nearly in all genetically engineered products and commonly used to trace gene transfers. After the consumption of transgenic food, the marker antibiotic gene can be absorbed either into the blood stream or into intestinal bacteria. Consequently, it interferes with the fruitful symbiotic relationship between the body system and the bacteria that is contained in the intestines.
In the same breath, genetically engineered foods have been faulted for their capability to remove important food elements. In China, the genetic engineers have been at liberty to change or completely remove crucial substances from the food products that they may consider undesirable. For instance, it has been said that some genetically modified food was deficient in cancer-inhibiting components (Gale and Buzby 13). Such components are often found in abundant quantities in organic food. It is quite frightening as it shows how malicious the genetic engineers are. According to other allegations, some substances consumed by people embody GMOs which inhibit natural fertility. In fact, this was deemed to be a conspiracy of the Chinese government together with the biotic companies to control the high growth of population. It has caused a lot of uproar among the human rights activists in China and around the world. They have been protesting against the GMO technology, although their efforts have been fruitless. Medical researchers have also taken responsibility for carrying out the necessary tests to prove/disprove the allegations though no apparent results have been made public yet.
Considering numerous cases of consumption of unsafe food in China as well as uncertainties around the issue of GMOs, the Chinese government with the help of relevant agencies has embarked on setting up right mechanisms to combat the food safety incidents through lasting remedies. As such, the government has approved a series of legislations with the aim of monitoring as well as improving the national standards in food production. The government is ensuring adequate consumer protection through the National Bureau of Standards, which enforces standards for market products. It is also carrying out the investigations of fake products in an effort to protect consumers from buying counterfeits that are brought to the market illegally. What is more, the Chinese government needs to reinforce the State Food and Drug Administration to monitor and ensure proper food safety throughout the country.
Lastly, the Chinese government needs to make use of experts to conduct investigations of food safety violations as well as the usage of GMOs and initiate subsequent prosecutions of the culprits. It should enforce laws, policies, and regulations that are geared towards ensuring adequate safety of food and health through proper production processes to reduce public anxiety. It ought to make sure that the food Chinese citizens consume complies with the set nutritive and hygienic standards and does not pose a threat to the wellbeing of consumers. Similarly, it should impose measures for avoiding the emergence of ailments that are associated with genetically modified food. Through the Ministry of Agriculture, the Chinese government should administer and supervise the application of GMO technology in the country (Silver 6). It should regulate the importation as well as exportation of the same products, checking their quality with regard to the conventional standards for transgenic organisms. The ministry also ensures that all the transgenic products entering and leaving the country are properly and explicitly labeled to avoid the controversy over the counterfeit products that the nation was implicated in. At the moment, there is no recovery plan to stick to in case of disaster arising from the consumption of genetically modified products. In case of negative consequences of consumption of transgenic products, it is not clear which entity will take responsibility for the damages caused. The attempts to reach consensus on the safety and the risks associated with genetic engineering in agriculture have also been thwarted by the uncertainties around the GMO technology. In addition, the international community has opposite views on the issue of GMOs. As a result, food safety is more of a marketing slogan because of the lack of scientific basis.
Environmental Concerns in Food Production
China has put commendable effort into ensuring food security for its expansive populace in the recent past. Although this goal is said to have been perfectly achieved, food safety has become a confounding issue in the country. As such, the international media has closely scrutinized China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (Oosterveer and Sonnenfeld 32). It is also explained by the fact that its abundant food products have failed quality and safety tests at the world market. The situation has also raised concerns among the people of China, especially those living in urban areas. Apparently, people have become aware of the dangers they are facing when consuming genetically modified food that is at their disposal.
The main contributing factor behind food safety issues in China is related to pesticides, which are used in the cultivation of food crops. Most Chinese farmers are reportedly fond of contravening the requisite regulations of use of such chemicals being oblivious of the consequences (McBeath and McBeath 107). Unfortunately, the end product inflicts serious harm on consumers. Similarly, the use of synthetic fertilizers has also been found to create toxic environment for food production. In China, many farmers have resorted to inorganic fertilizers in their farming practices. Apart from incurring extra expenses compared to the usage of organic manure, artificial fertilizers also introduce trace elements into the food products. These elements are harmful to the health as some of them may be cancerous.
Finally, the prevailing climatic conditions under which food crops are cultivated have also been affecting the end product in China. Usually most farmers depend on monsoon season to do their farming activities. However, sometimes, due to adverse conditions, food products are contaminated with aflatoxin which is deadly (Yiannas 32). Mostly it happens during the harvest of cereal crops when there is heavy rainfall.
Food Storage and Transportation Issues in China
Storage and transportation of food in China is still a big challenge to farmers as well as food vendors. In some parts of the country, infrastructure is dilapidated, which makes food go bad before it reaches consumers. Some food stuffs can spoil even before the recommended expiry dates. This is attributed to inappropriate food storage methods or facilities. Seemingly, many farmers and food producers do not think how the products will finally be stored or transported to the required destinations (Yiannas 37). Such state of affairs makes much of the food go bad before it reaches the factories and/or the markets. It is also possible that most of Chinese food manufacturers receive and process food products that are already in a bad state. This is what has obviously been contributing to poor quality of end products.
As concerns transportation, it is observed that most of road systems, especially in rural China, are still in a deplorable state. Furthermore, food processing companies are located far away from the expansive farms. Mostly they are located in urban areas. Thus, it makes transportation of food products a big problem. Many products reach the factories when they have already begun decomposing. Even those products that are transported to market places straight away may be subject to the same transportation issues. Consequently, products reach consumers when their quality has already been compromised. There is a similar problem with a railway system. Although China has embraced the high-speed train services, the expansiveness of the land remains an issue that the country has to solve. Mostly the bulky food products which cannot be airfreighted are transported by trains and ferries from farms to plants and markets.
Incidents of Food Poisoning in China
The observation reveals that food stuffs are usually highly susceptible to contamination because of irregular handling. Cases of food poisoning in China are rampant at the levels of storage and marketing. Many food vendors are oblivious of the recommended hygienic standards when it comes to handling food products. Since most of the storage and preservation facilities are in a poor condition, much of the food that finally reaches the market is contaminated or even stale. A number of Chinese food products have been discovered to be stale at the domestic and world market, raising many questions about the credibility of the food engineers in China (Newslow 22).
What is more, additives that manufacturers and food processing companies use are also the cause of food poisoning (King 76). Food additives are usually added to the main product to augment the flavor. Sometimes additives are added together with preservatives which similarly ensure longevity of food products. When the standard specifications as well as proper procedures are not followed, the seasonal products become toxic and totally unfit for human consumption. It is noted that most of the Chinese cornflakes and other cereal products have been rejected at the international market following the allegations that the products lacked the right flavor. In another case, there has been some sort of consumerism in major Chinese cities where consumers protested against the instances of food poisoning that occurred in certain parts of the country. The issues of modified flavor and concealed contents of some foods were among the ones they raised. Apparently the industry has become adamant to unveil the true contents of the modified products, even though it has not been proven that most of food poisoning cases occur because of GMOs (Gale and Buzby 17).
Extensive research on the problem of food poisoning reveals that the issue is mostly caused by the use of unhygienic starting materials such as food ingredients (Silver 7). Seemingly, some food engineers have no idea about food purity measures, which entail the use of unadulterated materials at each stage of production. This is the only way that would ensure the quality of the end product. Among the food safety cases that received close attention was the Chinese milk scandal of 2008. It is known that traces of artificial hormones were discovered in the milk content (Zhou and Jin 28). That was the time when the international community unanimously rejected the milk products from China taking into account the consumers’ complaints about the quality of the product. Apart from losing colossal amount of money, the industry also earned a negative reputation. The case has reduced the productivity of Chinese milk industry, which also had to grapple with the sanctions imposed against it by the world community. As a result, many workers had to seek employment in other industries to avoid the shame that was associated with their industry. Therefore, unless China takes great measures against the compromised quality of its food products, its food industry may end up suffering similar ordeals again.
Food safety should be the first priority to the Chinese government as well as everyone around the world. Without doubt, every individual subsists on food, and without food there will be no existence. The government of China has a constitutional mandate to set appropriate standards that would ensure food safety for all consumers within and outside the country. It is unfortunate that even with proper mechanisms in place no apparent effort is put into regulating the ongoing GMO technology. Genetic engineers keep perpetuating the practice of food cloning while biotic companies subsequently produce and sell the products without proper labels. Such a situation has augmented anxiety among consumers for they feel they are eating food that may not be fit for human consumption. There have been isolated cases where people perished after the consumption of spoiled food. Other people have had the gripes when they ate unsafe food stuffs. Thus, the Chinese government has spent colossal amounts of money trying to avoid such cases and prevent harmful health consequences the victims face. The international community also has a duty to express a concern about the GMO technology and, in particular, about food products made in China.