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Food quality worries some people in Shanghai
By Cao Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-09-23 02:40

A major survey found nearly four out of 10 residents in Shanghai worry about food quality, and has therefore put the food administration on alert.

The survey, the first ever of its kind in the city, conducted by the Shanghai Quality and Technical Supervision Bureau, covered some 800 households.

Researchers said it was aimed at helping the bureau, which takes the main role in local food quality control, improve its application of QS (quality safety), a certification system which stipulates that only food with the QS mark be sold in markets.

"I do worry about the food quality, and I did encounter problems several times," said a woman in her early 50s who does the food purchasing for her family.

"I never miss a Sunday programme on CCTV (China Central Television), which always put unqualified -- sometimes even poisonous -- foods in the spotlight, and I am shocked to see so much unsafe food. Besides, I have heard stories of bad quality food all the time," added the woman, who is surnamed Zhang.

A bureau official acknowledged there are some food-safety issues, but insisted they are not serious.

"Problems do exist in every aspect, ranging from grain growing, food manufacturing to distribution, but not as terribly as people think," said the official surnamed Zheng.

Compared to the 38.3 per cent who reported mistrust, 8 per cent of interviewees said they have actually purchased food of bad quality.

Of those reported problems, more than 20 per cent involved milk products. Other top complaint-receivers were meat products (roughly 16 per cent), beverages (11.4 per cent) and canned foods (11 per cent).

Still, approximately 82 per cent of some 1,000 different foods were deemed safe in the most recent check by the bureau. That figure is higher than those of the products in many other fields, such as electronics. The bureau found 74 per cent of such products to be safe.

Zheng insists Shanghai's food quality "is actually improving rather than getting worse."

"For example, a check in 1996 found only 68 per cent of moon cakes were qualified, but after 2000 the figure was higher than 95 per cent," added Zheng.

The city initiated the QS certification system for major food products at the end of 2002 and, since last year, has forbidden the sale of rice, noodles, vegetable oil, soy sauce and vinegar without a QS certificate issued by the government.

"The system will be applied to another 10 categories of food products, including meat and milk, later this year," said Zheng, "and it will be extended to all processed food products in the next two to three years."

In addition, the bureau conducts spot-checks throughout the year, and unqualified manufacturers will be closed down.

But still, people need to know how to protect themselves from bad food, according to Zheng.

The survey reveals that only 20 per cent of consumers look for the QS mark, a square logo with a blue "Q'' and a white "S'', when purchasing food.

"We have been giving lectures and sending out pamphlets about how to recognize questionable food, and at this past weekend we held lectures, helping local residents learn more about QS, in some 14 districts and counties," said Zheng. "We are hoping the media can help publicize more knowledge about how to avoid bad-quality food rather than simply exposing the problems."

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