CHINA> Regional
Belly ache leads to $38 compo claim
By Chen Jia in Beijing and Liang Qiwen in Guangzhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-05 13:48

A Beijing consumer wants 213 yuan ($38) in compensation because Wang Laoji herbal tea, the country's best-selling soft drink, gave him stomach cramps.

"The Xiakucao (Prunella vulgaris L), a main ingredient in the tea, made my stomach ache after drinking it and it's not an food ingredient according to the Ministry of Health," a consumer named Zhang Jianlei told the Beijing News .

Belly ache leads to $38 compo claim

Zhang said he decided to do the "right thing" on behalf of consumers and file a lawsuit, although some food experts in Guangdong province, where the producer is based, said the drink was safe to consume.

Zhang wants just 213 yuan ($31) in compensation, which is 10 times of what he paid for the drink at Beijing Hualian Hyermarket Co on Monday.

Beijing's Xicheng District Court will hear the case, which was filed against the supermarket rather than the drink's producer, Guangzhou Wanglaoji Pharmaceutical Company ltd, the report said.

It is the first case to be filed in a Beijing court after the new Food Safety Law took effect on Monday. Before the law, consumers could only apply for twice of the article's price in compensation.

Zhang Junxiu, president of the food product industry association of Guangdong said that Xiakucao was a legal herbal ingredient.

"Wang Laoji and its ingredients are absolutely safe for human consumption," he said. "Millions of people in China and abroad drink Wang Laoji, but none of them have had any problems."

Related readings:
 Traces of cocaine found in Red Bull in HK
 Wanglaoji is safe to drink, say experts
 China dismisses beverage contamination rumor
 China to shape up health food sector

 Higher penalty, safer food

Recently, a man in Zhejiang province, who had drank the herbal tea for years, developed a gastric ulcer, which his doctor blamed on Xiakucao, the key ingredient in the herbal tea.

Last month, the Ministry of Health said that Xiakucao was not on the list of edible Chinese medicines. The list includes 87 different Chinese medicines that can be put into food products.

However, the ministry also said that the ingredients in Wang Laoji were registered with the ministry in 2005, without explicitly saying whether the drink was safe or not.

Wang Laoji, a 170-year-old brand of herbal tea, beat global beverage giant Coca-Cola to become the best-selling soft drink when it generated 9 billion yuan worth of revenue in China in 2007.

Plant beverages targeted

Meanwhile in Guangzhou, a new standard for plant-based beverages, including herbal tea drinks, were released by the local quality and technology supervision bureau.

The requirement covers five types of plant beverages, including mushroom drinks, corn drinks, and seaweed drinks. Drinks of herbal tea, chrysanthemum tea and winter melon tea are also included.

It set a standard for the production and sales procedures of the beverages, including packaging, testing, transportation, storage, and food additives.

The Guangzhou bureau of quality and technology said the hygiene requirement was for the upcoming 2010 Asian Games and would be put into effect at the end of this month. It will continue after the Asian Games has ended.

It said all herbal tea ingredients should meet requirements of the Ministry of Health and General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.