Latest Food Safety Scandal In China Another Example Of Country's Struggle To Secure Food Supply

LOS ANGELES , July 30, 2014 () – The recent food safety scare in China involving expired meat sold to major fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and KFC is the latest and perhaps most poignant example of the difficulties the country has faced in bettering its food safety since a deadly dairy scandal rocked the nation in 2008.

Nearly six years ago, six babies died and 294,000 were made sick by baby formula contaminated by melamine, supplied by name brand and major Chinese player Sanlu Group. Since then, China has made several efforts to increase the safety of its food supply, with the country’s top legislature recently asking for public opinions on drafting a new food safety law that imposes harsher penalties on offenders. But despite these efforts, major food safety scares and scandals have popped up in China, including several that involved major food and restaurant companies.

KFC, for example, saw its sales dip in China following a food safety scare over its chicken in 2012. Wal-Mart came under fire earlier this year after its "Five Spice" donkey meat in the country was found to contain fox meat. And then there’s the latest example: Shanghai-based Husi Food, which supplies meat in China to McDonald’s and KFC among others, was found to be using expired or rotten meat.

The ripple effect for this most recent food safety scare has been huge. A federal investigation was ordered, Starbucks and Burger King announced the removal of certain products from its stores, and McDonald’s made the unprecedented move of eliminating all beef, pork and chicken items from its Chinese menus. Want a Big Mac in Beijing? Forget about it. You’ll have to settle for a Filet-O-Fish.

Why does China continue to have problems with securing its food supply? Industry officials point to the difficulties of increasing the nation’s food safety when faced with the country’s centuries-old and sprawling food supply chain, resulting in uneven results. While China has banned or limited sales of imported American foods including pork, citing concerns about feed additives, it continues to grapple with recent safety concerns over contaminants in many of its domestically produced rice, bottled water and soy sauce.

That’s probably why 80% of Chinese adults are not satisfied with food safety in the country and 60% think food companies have performed poorly in this area, according to a recent survey by Beijing research company Horizon Research and Horizonkey. Not helping consumer sentiment any is the fact that as U.S. sales decline, major food and restaurant companies are looking to China to help increase their bottom line. So now when a food safety scare hits the country, they often play out on a global stage.

And China’s food safety issues are once again in the spotlight.

Nevin Barich is the Food and Beverage Analyst for Industry Intelligence. Email him here or follow him on Twitter here.

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