China's elite enjoys untainted
fruits By Yvonne Su
BEIJING - Reports that China's local
government departments are running organic farms
to avoid tainted food have angered a general
public already frustrated with Beijing's response
to the food safety issue.
melamine-tainted infant milk formula left six
children dead and more than 300,000 ill in 2008,
the country has faced a mounting number of
food-related scandals. These have ranged from
steroid-spiked pork to fake eggs and cooking oil
made from kitchen waste.
Now media have
revealed that government departments and some
state-run enterprises are running their own farms,
have a "special supply line"
in place to ensure their foods are safe.
"I have learned of several ministry-level
departments adopting this practice," said He
Jiguao, professor from China Agricultural
He Bing, a law professor at
the China University of Political Science and Law,
revealed last August that during travels across
the country an increasing number of provincial
government departments had advised him to relax
while eating in their canteens - because the food
was from their own farms.
government has never officially acknowledged the
existence of a special food supply system for
officials, but it can in fact be traced back to
the early days of the Chinese Communist Party
In China's dynastic history,
emperors of course enjoyed specially supplied
foods, but the practice was ended after the last
dynasty, the Qing, was toppled by the 1911
Revolution. When the Red Army led by Mao Zedong
arrived in the revolutionary capital Yan'an after
the Long March in mid-1930s, the CCP adopted a
special supply system from the Soviet Union that
gave larger rations to senior leaders when the
party was facing shortages.
One of the
main departments currently in charge of special
food supplies for the central government is the
state-run Beijing Er Shang Group. Founded in 1955
it was once known as Beijing Second Commercial (Er
Shang) Bureau. Er-Shang Group, which controls 13
prestigious brands, supplies meat, vegetables,
fruits, tea, and at least 20 other kinds of food
products to the market.
According to the
Caixin Century magazine, Er Shang Group
subsidiaries Da Hong Men Meat and Beijing
Yueshengzhai Islamic Food Limited supply pork and
lamb to the party and government clients.
"For years, we have successfully completed
the assignments to conduct special supplies to the
party, the state and important events in Beijing
municipality," the company writes on its website.
Caixin reported that the company has a
"special supply room" that has a carefully
controlled temperature and environmental
conditions, without worrying about the cost. Da
Hong Men's meat supply department confirmed the
existence of the special room, but declined to
provide further information.
Jushan State Farm, a farm in western suburb of
Beijing that belongs to the state-run Capital
Agribusiness Group, has been a major supplier of
foodstuffs to central government officials.
The farm, located near factories and four
golf courses, remains so low key that some
residents in the area were not even aware its
existence. According to Capital Agribusiness
Group's website, Jushan farm covers 1,353 acres
Unlike other organic
farms, Jushan's products are reserved solely for
central government departments, according to its
"Our products are not for sale on
market. It is not available to ordinary
customers," a member of the farm's staff, who
declined to identify himself, said in a phone
There are other vegetable
suppliers located in another of Beijing's suburbs
- Shunyi, which include China Certification and
Inspection Group's Anlilong farm and Beijing
Customs' organic farm.
Anlilong's website, its vegetables and fruits are
certified organic, passing the required quality
The Southern Weekend, an outspoken
Guangzhou-based newspaper, reported in May that
Beijing Customs owns a 200-acre (81-hectare)
organic farm that grows vegetables such as
tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage and cucumber. These
are cultivated by strictly following the rules for
organic food production, and are usually delivered
to government departments' canteens directly, the
Under the special supply
system, all these farms deal with the Beijing
Center of Agricultural Products for Special
Demand, set up by the Beijing Municipal Rural
Affairs Committee in 2002 to coordinate foodstuff
supplies to central government departments.
There are similar operations in other
provinces. According to official documents, the
chiefs of all local government's Rural Affairs
Committees are required to take the full
responsibility for the safety and quality of farm
products produced under their jurisdiction. The
Beijing Center, meanwhile, has to constantly
perform quality checks on its products, according
to its regulations.
Liuminying New Century
Farm, a Beijing-based chicken farm, has been
chosen to supply eggs to the annual National
People's Congress (NPC) for years. Staff at the
farm explained that they take seriously the
quality of the farm's water, feed and chicken
health. Government officials from "relevant
departments" visited the farm regularly to inspect
the farm's environment, the staff said.
Luminying's eggs are also available to ordinary
customers, though they cost about one third more
of the average market price.
agricultural product suppliers, one of the
long-time links in the special supply chain is
Tianyuan, a pickle supplier since the Qing Dynasty
emperors a century ago. The imperial practice was
restored in 1949, when Tianyuan was again picked
as a special supplier to central government
officials after the communists seized power
"We are very careful and serious about our
ingredients. We use real sugar, not cheap
sweeteners," said a staff of the company, who
declined to identify himself.
the writer Wang Shiwei, even in Yan'an different
standards of clothing and meals were given to
communist officials according to their rank.
Sidney Rittenberg, an American journalist who
joined Mao's Red Army, once described to media
that senior communist leaders including Mao and
Zhou Enlai enjoyed four dishes and one bowl of
soup at every meal in the Yan'an era.
practice evolved into the founding of Beijing Food
Supplying Station or the "No 34 Special Supply
Department" in downtown Beijing in 1955,
designated to source high-quality meat,
vegetables, cooking oil and confectionery from
"Special supply was never
been a small business," wrote Gao Zhiyong, a
former official at Beijing's Second Commercial
Bureau, in an article published in 2007. Gao
explained that safety, high quality and
convenience were the three priorities for
specially supplied goods. The family backgrounds
of all the staffers in the system were thoroughly
checked, the article said.
As the public
grows more frustrated over the food safety issue,
recent exposure given to the special supply chain
has sparked anger and doubt over the government's
determination to tackle the problem. According to
the State Council's Food Safety Committee, set up
in February last year, at least 130,000 unsafe
food cases involving illegal activities were
uncovered last year.
In the past two
months, stories and commentaries in media and the
Internet concerning the special supply system have
aroused widespread criticism.
"This is a
revival of feudal privileges for
capitalist-officials," a Shanghai reader commented
on Caixin's website.
Given the rising
public frustration, perhaps Beijing would be
better advised to ensure local governments are
enforcing food safety standards - rather than
making sure they are well fed.
Yvonne Su is a freelance
journalist based in Beijing.
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