By Guo Qiang
China's top quality watchdog this week released the lists of substandard imported foods and cosmetics from April and May, blacklisting products by brands such as South Korea's Lotte and the US' General Mills, further damaging the already questionable image of some imported goods.
Almost 300 batches of foreign foods and cosmetics imported from countries such as South Korea, the United States, New Zealand and Japan, covering a wide range of products such as dairy products, honey, chocolate, biscuits and jam, were blocked from entering China or destroyed because they failed to meet quality standards, according to the two lists released Monday and Wednesday by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).
General Mills products appeared on the blacklist for both months. Two batches of its cake flour, one batch of corn-muffin powder and one batch of pancake power have been returned after being found to contain excessive aluminum. General Mills is famous for its Haagen- Dazs ice cream.
On the May list, a batch of Gerber mixed-grain cereal, made by US-based Unified Western Grocers, Inc, was destroyed for containing excessive enterobacter sakazakii, which can trigger meningitis and intestinal colitis, with a mortality rate of more than 50 percent, the Guangzhou Daily reported.
The AQSIQ stressed on its official website that all these imported foods and cosmetics on the blacklist have been returned, destroyed or converted to other use and did not enter the domestic market.
However, the AQSIO did not elaborate what "other use" means, or how it could ensure that those products are really returned or destroyed without entering the Chinese market.
An employee with the marketing department at the Shenzhen-based Youshiai Commercial and Trade Company, which imported a batch of puffed popcorn from General Mills Sales Inc, confirmed to the Global Times that "the food has been returned for substandard quality."
Thanks to rising incomes and an expanding urban middle class, China is now flooded with imported food. From cheese from Australia and chocolate from South Korea, to chewing gum from the United States, imported food can be commonly found on supermarket shelves. And some Chinese consumers have higher expectations on imported food.
Wang Ying, a 25-year-old postgraduate student in Beijing, said that "I like to buy foreign organic food, although they are usually more expensive than homemade counterparts. And, buying imported products, which are always considered higher quality, can earn sufficient 'face' when you give them to your friends as gifts."
But a series of food scandals facing foreign brands has cast doubt over their reputations. A number of well-known companies, including Nestle and Kraft, were criticized for causing food safety scares in China.
In order to better ensure the quality of imported food, the AQSIO issued a regulation this July, stating that manufacturers should voluntarily recall substandard products in the Chinese market.
The regulation is widely seen as a move to tackle double standards by foreign food makers toward Chinese consumers.
The Guangzhou-based New Express reported that Nestle recalled its NescaféCollections coffee (100g jars only), because the product might contain small pieces of glass, from the European market.
But the company refused Chinese consumers' requests for refunds or a recall, saying Chinese consumers are not entitled because the products were not available in the Chinese market. But some products were on sale on one of China's biggest shopping websites, the newspaper added.
Chen Min, a professor with the College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering of China Agricultural University, said that "not all the imported foods are better than ours. No country can secure food safety 100 percent. Consumers shouldn't be blinded when purchasing imported foods."
The US has been coping with an egg crisis. A total of 550 million eggs have been recalled for possible salmonella infection from 22 states since August 13, in what is being called the nation's largest food recall.
Dong Jinshi, a Beijing-based food safety expert, called on further strengthening of regulations, saying there are no effective regulations on the imported food market.
"We can't make sure that substandard products are returned or destroyed if we solely depend on the social responsibilities of manufacturers," he said.
Liu Linlin contributed to this story