Beijing or bust


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
January 10, 2008

This summer, the world's top amateur (and some professional) athletes will convene in Beijing for the games of the XXIX Olympiad. All eyes will be on China, but there will be more on display than sports. The safety of the nation's food supply will be under heavy scrutiny because nearly all of the athletes, coaches and attendees' food will be from China, which has wrestled with an unprecedented food-safety crisis over the past several months. China says it'll be ready.

Yesterday, Chinese officials declared their recent four-month food-safety campaign (read: crackdown) a success, and that special attention will be paid to the food served at the Olympics. Chinese citizens still say they're worried; in fact, more than 60 percent of respondents to a government survey, as reported by Xinhua News Agency, the state-run media, said they are continually concerned about the safety of their food supply. A third of urban citizens are worried about the quality of their drinking water.

''We have successfully completed our mission of improving the quality and safety,'' Agriculture Vice Minister Gao Hongbin told reporters. ''However, the regulation of quality and safety of agricultural products is still faced with arduous challenges.''

Gao added that stiffened enforcement and increased inspections resulted in lowered levels of chemical residues in farmed seafood, the repeated detection of which prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to put Chinese suppliers on import alert last summer. What's more, illegal production, sale and application of five banned pesticides has been halted, Gao added, and that more than 875 tons of toxins were confiscated and destroyed.

Here's the seafood hook: Agricultural pesticides seep into the ground and eventually make their way to China's waterways, which are crowded with fish farms of all types. Still, Gao defiantly condemned the Dec. 15 New York Times report, ''In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters,'' in which China's waters were described as ''filthy.''

''This is a question of common sense,'' Gao said, adding that 98 percent of China's seafood exports meet the standard. ''Do you believe that fish can live in toxic water?''

Becoming a seafood juggernaut didn't happen overnight; it only seems that way due to the media onslaught. And it clearly didn't happen without some performance-enhancing help. But considering Chinese seafood's importance to the U.S. market (21 percent of all U.S. seafood imports are from China, some 1.2 billion pounds in 2006) the United States should support China's food-safety initiatives to help the growing nation become the honorable supplier it aspires to be - during the Olympics and beyond.

Thank you,
James Wright
Assistant Editor
SeaFood Business

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