WRITE for ATol ADVERTISE MEDIA KIT GET ATol BY EMAIL ABOUT ATol CONTACT US
Asia Time Online - Daily News
             
Asia Times Chinese
AT Chinese



    Greater China
     Jul 7, 2011


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.

Since 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, while others

 
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 University.

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.

The Chinese 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 (CCP).

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.

For years, 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 (547 hectares).

Unlike other organic farms, Jushan's products are reserved solely for central government departments, according to its staff.

"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 interview.

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.

According to Anlilong's website, its vegetables and fruits are certified organic, passing the required quality tests.

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 paper said.

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.

Aside from 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.

According to 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.

The 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 farms.

"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.

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


Money can't buy China happiness
(Apr 7, '11)


1.
Libya after Gaddafi

2. US, Pakistan top brass fire risky salvos

3. DSK and the death of the novel

4. Taliban sing a false note

5. Iran crisis close to climax?

6. North Korean girls escape to slavery

7. Have lobby, will travel

8. Changing of the guard in Thailand

9. Taiwan shocks China's independent tourists

10. A shadow of the 1930s

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Jul 5, 2011)

 
 



All material on this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
Copyright 1999 - 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings), Ltd.
Head Office: Unit B, 16/F, Li Dong Building, No. 9 Li Yuen Street East, Central, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110