Food safety crackdown leads Chinese retailers to halt sales of live fish

Supermarkets in Beijing appear to have cleared out their water tanks last week after a tip-off of an imminent inspection of retail fish tanks by the local Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which enforces China’s food safety laws.

A story in respected business magazine Caixin quoted an SFDA insider, suggesting that someone from within the SFDA had leaked news of upcoming inspections to retailers. But visits by SeafoodSource to retail outlets in recent months have suggested that retailers are increasingly nervous about stocking domestic Chinese seafood, which may have excessive traces of antibiotics.

FDA inspections have become “very strict,” according to a floor manager at a giant Wal-Mart outlet in the Chaoyang district of Beijing. That’s making the supermarket nervous about suppliers.

“Maybe in the future we will only sell frozen or chilled seafood,” the manager said.

The purge of live seafood tanks has extended beyond Beijing, suggesting a significant change has come that will have an impact on local aquaculture production and the access to retail outlets for local freshwater produce.

In the coastal city of Jinan, a major port and seafood production and trading hub, a Hualian supermarket near the city’s West Market hasn’t sold live seafood for the past six months. Staff told a reporter from the local daily newspaper, Jinan Shi Bao, that his supermarket would possibly sell live seafood again in January or February. The Jinan Shi Bao article mentioned tanks have also been emptied in RT Mart , as well as in the Wal-Mart outlet on Quan Chengg Lu, a major thoroughfare in the city, and the Carrefour outlet on Jie Fang Qiao.

While the crackdown on seafood is new, a more vigilant and active FDA has been conducting inspections of meat counters in the past few years, resulting in much-reported closures of several supermarket outlets. The inspections are likely to become more frequent if China’s food safety regulatory bodies have their requests for more staffing and training granted. Those requests were formally made at a Thursday, 24 November meeting of the China People’s Consultative Conference, an advisory body for lawmakers.

Chinese consumers – particularly older shoppers – traditionally prefer to buy live seafood at supermarkets and wet markets, as a reassurance of the product quality. Supermarkets in Beijing sell high volumes of locally produced freshwater species like carp, still a favorite for home cooking. Other species sold in Wal-Mart tanks in Beijing include perch and tilapia, as well as crab and shrimp.

But the days of live seafood markets in Chinese food retail venues may be numbered. Concern over costly closures appears to have spooked retailers keen not to suffer similar fates due to failed inspections of their seafood counters. With food safety a large and growing issue for both the Chinese populace and its government, it’s possible that retailers’ worries over stepped-up FDA enforcement may fundamentally alter the Chinese retail market in seafood.


Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500