For Guo Changjun, 'surprise' visits from food safety inspectors became a
basic fact of life long ago.
Guo, who manages an organic farm in Beijing near the Badaling section of the
Great Wall, says pressure to increase safety levels has been mounting for years.
"Chinese people care more about their health now and even farmers are
reluctant to use chemical pesticides," said Guo, whose farm comes under extreme
scrutiny as it is one of the official food suppliers for the Beijing Games.
"The government and our suppliers have been paying a lot more attention to
this issue over the past few years," he told China Daily.
In recent months, international alarm bells have sounded over the risks posed
by Chinese food in the wake of a number of scandals involving major consumers
such as the United States.
Reports of pet food, toothpaste and farmed fish tainted with potentially
dangerous chemicals from China have spurred concern about the way food is
produced, regulated and monitored in China, especially with the Olympics just
around the corner.
As host, Beijing will cater to over 10,000 athletes and more than half a
million international visitors from August to September next year. After the
Olympic Games wrap up in mid-August, the Paralympics will begin the following
To ensure food safety, city and Olympic officials have already implemented
strict regulations to whip China's food production and distribution networks
One of the key measures is to set up an Olympic Food Tracing System, a
mechanism to monitor the production, processing, packaging, transportation and
distribution of what gets put on the table at Olympic venues and areas.
"The tracing system is a very important part of Beijing's food safety
inspection system as it can help control every step in the food-production
process," Professor Cai Tongyi said.
Cai serves as a consultant to the Beijing Olympic Food Safety Consulting
Committee, which was established in 2005 with 15 experts, roughly half of them
drawn from international organizations.
On August 8, the tracing system will be put into practice in both English and
Chinese for the 10 Olympic test events in Beijing.
Guo's organic farm is already a part of the ambitious new system, adding
traceable bar codes to all of its products that contain information such as when
the food was produced, where and by whom.
If any problems are detected, a simple telephone call can get to the root of
the matter and swift punishments meted out to any offenders.
To help hundreds of local farmers develop their organic planting skills,
Guo's farm has invited experts from the Beijing Academy of Agricultural Sciences
to run large-scale workshops.
"The Games organizers have very high standards," said Guo. "We have already
assigned workers for each planting area, and you won't find any pesticides in
any of our vegetables."
According to Cai, some 235 field inspectors are working at 48 farms that will
supply the 2008 Olympics, to monitor their use of chemicals. They often spring
surprise spot checks to root out any cheats.
During the Games, Guo's farm will provide some 200 tons of organic vegetables
to the capital every day.
To make sure every procedure in the food distribution network is controlled,
each van that leaves the farm will have a named driver, a global positioning
system (GPS), a specially designed route and a time schedule.
During the drive, the temperature and humidity of the food storage area will
also be supervised to ensure safety levels are met.
The products will be sent to an Olympic Food Distribution Center and then to
the Olympic Village, where round-the-clock guards will be on duty in the
kitchens and food storage areas will be under video surveillance.
White mice will also be used to test the food prepared for the athletes. When
an athlete eats at the Olympic Village canteen, their identification card will
be able to read and record the information about their chosen meal, noting down
exactly where and when they bought it.
If any food poisoning occurs, the tracing system can take effect in minutes.
"In about 10 minutes, we can find out the source of the tainted food and
remove it from the shelves," said Cai.
But he is still concerned about food safety in the rest of the city.
"Beijing is doing quite well in controlling the food safety at the Olympic
Village and Olympic venues, but it is not easy to manage so many small
restaurants and food stands in other parts of the city," he said.
He said that food producers need to be brought to heel to solve this problem
on a broader scale.
Since 2006, the government has issued licenses to qualified food producers,
focusing on staples like rice, meat and sugar, and food for children and old
"Things have improved dramatically over the last few years and they are
continuing to do so," said Cai. "The government is genuinely concerned about
this issue and is taking it seriously.
"The more people learn about the measures we are taking to safeguard the
food, the less they will worry about their trip to China."