Monday, February 21, 2011

Plastic Rice

An English blog cited a Vietnamese source 'Very Vietnam', which in turn referred to a Korean language 'Weekly Hongkong' who reported Singapore media alleging plastic rice discovered in market in Taiyuan of Shanxi Province, what a mouthful.

The Seagull hasn't had the privilege of tasting this edition of rice, therefore we can not confirm or rebut the truthfulness of the story. However, given the track record of food safety in the most recent years, nothing is impossible on this magic land.

Around 1996, a rare, expensive kind of rice, bamboo jasmine rice emerged in market. This rare kind of rice has a bamboo green, and a kind of bitter-mint smell of bamboo. Bamboo rice is heavily promoted as good to health. Two years later, it turned out these were ordinary rice with green color. This 'enhancement' technique was funded by China National Science Foundation, as hinted by this 1998 paper.

Around June, 2005, news reported thousands of tons of toxic rice (containing lethal amount of Aflatoxins per serving) in retail market in Beijing. This batch of rice was 'refurbished' by a company run by the Food Bureau of Beijing from old rice already removed from food produce process. The Food Bureau of Beijing denied the report, and insisted no old rice was re-introduced to the food process. Beijing municipal government admitted guilty with mounting evidence after half years of retail in October. The Food Bureau was fined $50,000.

Around 2011, news media reported a significant share of rice in China contained excessive cadmium, a by-product of industrial process. This is not really news worthy. As early as 2002, national testing results published by the Minister of Agriculture indicated 10.3% rice contains too much cadmium, and 28.4% contains too much lead, caused by industrial waste water being used for agriculture irrigation. No relief is expected because 1) there is no alternative source of water in affected areas; 2) it will be impossible to change the soil already contaminated. Century Weekly produced a map of cadmium rice.

A good hindsight guide in buying rice in China is to avoid good looking rice, because they were most likely polished, bleached from old rice. Also any type of jasmine rice should be avoided as they were made from artificially synthesized chemicals.

Readers familiar with what's happening in China know under the authoritarian ruling of the communist Party, no conduct without government endorsement could survive long enough to make a scandal. Bright Dairy of Shanghai was known for collecting riot milk from the market to reproduce new milk. Bright Dairy (Shanghai Stock Exchange 600597) was not punished even after a local TV station in Henan Province caught the entire process and aired it on national network. Former President Mr. Jiang Zemin was the president of Bright Dairy. The Three Deer (Sanlu) Dairy of Hebei Province received a National Science and Progress Award (2nd place, the highest ever in Dairy Industry) for its technique to mix melamine into milk product. With any luck, if the rumor were turned true), we would see the element of government sponsorship again behind the plastic rice incident.

There is no need to worry about food safety of government officials of all levels, because they eat produce only from specially designated 'Special Supply (Te4Gong1 in pinyin) Areas', where corps are grown with most strictly regulated traditional methods. History had proved again and again, sharing of resource with a closed circle is the most effective way of maintaining a regime.

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