China’s latest consumer rights investigation has prompted a central government investigation into chemicals illegally given to pigs, tainting pork, the country’s most popular meat.
Last week, in a nationwide television broadcast to mark World Consumer Rights Day, Chinese TV revealed footage of farmers in several areas giving pigs the banned chemical clenbuteral to make animals (and their meat) leaner. Several local officials were sacked and the State Council announced that it would investigate nationwide.
The story touched a raw nerve for Chinese consumers, with the memory of widespread melamine contamination in infant formula still fresh. Smaller-scale food safety problems remain common here and organic food has become more popular in recent years with wealthier consumers. But this problem with pork is not new.
In an interview several years ago, the Chinese writer and activist Zhou Qing discussed what he found while working on an investigative book about China’s food safety problems.
In years past, a pig would take three years to grow to the size where it would be slaughtered for food, Zhou said. In some places, rampant use of hormones and chemicals cut that growing period to six months.
When I asked what food he didn’t eat after three years of working on the book, Zhou put pork at the top of his list.