Beijing gov't disapproves rice rumours
By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-10-03 06:31

The Beijing municipal government yesterday hit back at allegations that the city's grain bureau sold rotten rice in local markets.

Overseas media reported in July that the bureau had bought 290,000 tons of rotten rice during the SARS outbreak in April 2003 as reserves, and then sold it in the capital's food markets early this year.

It is forbidden to sell out-of-date rice in markets because it contains high levels of a toxic pathogen, which can survive in temperatures of up to 280 degrees Celsius and might cause cancer.

The spokesperson of the municipal government pointed out in a written statement that the report was wrong on many facts.

"Beijing municipal grain bureau actually bought 287,000 tons of grain from Heilongjiang Province in Northeast China in March 2004, not 290,000 tons of rotten rice," said the statement.

The purchase aimed to lower the price of rice during the period.

The State Grain and Oil Quality Supervision and Inspection Centre conducted sample examinations, as did the grain stock authorities. Both said in test reports that the grain was up to scratch.

But the spokesperson said that 31,000 tons out of the total 287,000 tons of grain had deteriorated.

This was due to temperature variations between Heilongjiang and Beijing, which may have caused a small percentage of the grain to go bad during transportation and storage, said the statement.

The law forbids rotten rice being sold in grain markets, but allows officially appointed enterprises to purchase it through public auction to make industrial alcohol and animal feed.

Following the law, the bureau sold the 31,000 tons of rotten rice to appointed manufacturers in April 2006.

None of the rotten rice has made its way onto the grain market, said the spokesperson.

In fact, the grain bureau and local law enforcement departments have been taking measures to crack down on illegal food sales.

In a special action in April, the bureau hunted down 2,290 tons of rotten rice, 739 tons from outside Beijing and 1,551 tons from a Beijing grain and oil trading company.

There was no connection between this crack down and the 31,000 tons of rotten rice, said the spokesperson.

Investigations showed that the company purchased 6,616 tons of good quality rice in April 2005, but 1,551 tons of it went bad in the summer because of inappropriate storage. Between January and May, the company had been trying to get rid of the rice.

The company was fined 380,000 yuan (US$47,500) and all the rotten rice was seized.

The municipal government also made spot checks on rice in grain markets, supermarkets, construction sites, colleges, fast-food sellers and 17 rice processing factories, but no rotten rice was discovered.

The spokesperson denied the allegation that the municipal government was covering up the truth to cheat the public.