Radiation contamination seems to be the buzzword in China these days, after the emergency at Japan's earthquake-stricken nuclear plant sparked the world's worst leak fears in decades.
Authorities have ordered radiation tests on food and water, and minute traces of radiation have been detected in vegetables planted in many regions, with the latest contamination found on lettuce leaves in Jiangsu and beet leaves in Guangdong on Thursday. The radiation levels are too low to be "harmful to human health," the Ministry of Health told us.
It seems that all of a sudden, we have become a food safety-conscious nation. But to me, such a show of care is superfluous, and even demeaning. The assuring words are not only overstating the obvious, but are tantamount to an insult to intelligence. Whoever gives such an assurance smacks of either outrageous ignorance of China’s reality or deliberate downplaying of our resilience in the face of unsafe food.
And he needs to take a catch-up course.
A people with 5,000 years of "civilization" knows no fear of food poisoning, and years of trials and tribulations have toughened our digestion system to withstand onslaughts of the most ferocious scale from the dining table.
Flip through the newspapers, and you cannot but feel overwhelmed with pride in the innovation capability displayed by our "food" producers.
Here are just some mind-boggling and eye-opening examples from the media reports:
- Clenbuterol, a poisonous chemical that can reduce a pig's fat to produce lean meat, has been found in meat products in Henan, Jiangsu and Sichuan, involving Shuanghui Food Co Ltd, one of China's largest food producers. The hazardous additive has also been found in sheep in Hebei.
- As many as one in 10 meals in China is prepared with cooking oil retrieved from restaurant drains, according to research by a professor at Wuhan Polytechnic University.
- Ten percent of the rice sold in the markets is laced with cadmium - a heavy metal that is associated with high blood pressure, bone fractures and physical pain, according to a report compiled by Nanjing Agricultural University.
All this happened following reports of melamine-contaminated milk powder, drug-tainted fish, industrial dye used to color egg yolks red, and animal blood preserved with formaldehyde (to make blood curd, a Sichuan delicacy). We have every reason to believe they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Amazingly, the Chinese people not only survived, but thrived, with population increasing ataround 10 million each year. In fact, I tend to think that our genes may have mutated somewhat, thanks to the ever-challenging environment we live in characterized by dense smog, acid rain, putrefied rivers, and increasingly high levels of poison in food.
"Only" six children reportedly perished after years of drinking melamine-poisoned milk, while the son of one of my American friends suffered diarrhea throughout the week he was in Beijing for no obvious reason. Maybe that is why the West is so fearful of the "China threat". Based on the theory of survival of the fittest, they cannot outlast us, and we will defeat them in the end.