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Consumers swallow organic food claims
By Mu Zi (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-15 02:11

Consumers are being warned to watch out for fake organic food, which could account for about 10 per cent of all sales of "green" food in the capital.

Food producers in China have to follow a stricter rule to use the word "fresh" when advertising their products. [newsphoto]
Beijing Consumers Association, which has conducted a survey into organic food, discovered much food labelled organic on sale in the city was fake.

The association released the report on the eve of this year's International Consumer Rights and Interests Day, which is today.

The survey found that, in a random selection of 268 goods labelled organic, including rice, oil, eggs, vegetables and drinks, 25 samples were counterfeit.

Some of the fake food is produced by companies that do not have organic certifications, such as milk produced by a Heilongjiang-based company and rice from a Hebei-based plant.

Some enterprises pasted "organic food" labels on food that looks similar to genuine organic products, the association claimed.

According to food regulations, a company can only put an organic label on its products for three years before its products need to be re-examined.

The city's consumers association called on government departments to beef up supervision of organic food, which is regarded as a safe choice by consumers. They have been scared by numerous food safety problems, such as the overuse of pesticides, growth hormones in animal feed and unsafe food additives.

The release of the survey is just a small part of the various activities that will take place to mark consumers' day.

In the past four days, personnel from the association and other officials have been on the streets offering legal advice to consumers about their rights. Experts were also invited to give help on product quality.

According to statistics provided by the association, by the end of last year, it had received more than 20,000 complaints from consumers, 97 per cent of which had been resolved, resulting in compensation of more than 22.5 million yuan (US$2.7 million) for consumers.

The complaints mainly focused on three areas, including poor after-sales service, which took up 40 per cent of the total complaints; quality problems, accounting for 28 per cent; and disputes over contracts, amounting to nearly 12 per cent.

Previously, most Chinese consumers silently tolerated violations of their rights, blaming the situation on bad luck. But now, consumers are becoming educated and developing a greater sense of self-protection.

In another development, the Chinese Consumers Association yesterday warned people who still use old-style water heaters to scrap the machines because of safety risks.

The old gas-fired water heaters, which discharge waste gases directly into rooms, can cause fatal accidents from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Statistics show that more than 1,000 such accidents happened last year.

The country forbade the selling of old-style water heaters in 2000. However, nearly 10 million such heaters are still in use around the country.

(China Daily 03/15/2005 page5)

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