No other country is more alert in addressing food safety issues today than China. Scandals, induced by non-discreet media reporting, can incite panic and strike devastating blows to the industries involved.
With the melamine and industrial gelatin scandals almost destroying the diary industry, one may wonder if the recent media reports on Jiugui liquor containing excessive amount of plasticizers spell doom for the entire liquor industry. As a matter of fact, the sector has already lost more than 3.3 billion yuan (US$ 529 million) in the stock market.
The frequent occurrence of food safety scandals is the result of many factors in addition to enterprises' lack of self-discipline. First, local governments have been attracting business investments at the expense of the environment. The air, water and soil have been polluted heavily. As long as these governments remain oriented towards attracting investment, there will be no fundamental change. Second, with the progress of globalization and upgrading of technology, old industrial standards are replaced by new ones at a very rapid pace. Enterprises must work even harder to keep up with the times. Third, the rise in consumers' disposable incomes has made more expensive brands produced by traditional techniques more available to the general public.
In fact, food safety problem have always existed, but in the past, people wouldn't bother to find out if there is anything harmful in these foods since they would only consume them on rare occasions.
Given these facts, I believe reason and tolerance will play an important role in correcting safety issues. I believe in my own judgment. At least, large companies have standardized monitoring and testing procedures. In our market, there are many unlicensed foods which do not undergo any tests. It's doubtless that these items pose a threat to people's health.
I suggest the media gain a better understanding of this background when covering food safety. Sensational headlines will not help solve problems. It's true that big names are newsworthy, but the reports will harm industry leaders, bring a disaster to the whole industry and offer no help to small and medium-sized companies. If the media keeps on breaking these kinds of stories, the nation's industries will be destroyed one-by-one and companies with comparatively better performance will decline. This will only make the food safety issue even worse.
Take the liquor plasticizer scandal as an example. Subsequent media reports showed that first of all, the national standard for liquors requires no test for plasticizers. Therefore, the so-called excessive amount of plasticizers should not be taken as a violation of rules. Second, the "relative regulation" mentioned in media reports is only a letter issued by an office of the Ministry of Health. It is not a national standard. It's unfair to judge a company by using a document that is not a compulsory industrial regulation at all.
When probing the necessity of formulating new industry standards or upgrading existing industry standards, the media should find out more statistics from businesses and make suggestions for the industry without mentioning a particular company's name. The resulting reports may not cause a nationwide sensation, but they will better serve society and help improve people's livelihoods.
The author is a social commentator in Beijing.
(This post was published in Chinese and translated by Chen Xia.)
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.