Food

Cooking oil scandal may prompt China to tighten food safety policies, observers say

Observers say Beijing does not appear to be trying to cover up the scandal, even though it has emerged at a politically sensitive time ahead of the third plenum of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, which starts on Monday.
There has been limited censorship around the report, which implicated a subsidiary of state-owned stockpiler Sinograin and private firm the Hopefull Grain and Oil Group. Both companies have launched their own investigations.

As well as a public outcry on social media, the report has prompted harsh criticism from state media over the alleged wrongdoing.

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Leftover oil from hotpot dishes in China reused to fuel planes

Leftover oil from hotpot dishes in China reused to fuel planes

Wang Xiangwei, an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Communication, said Beijing appeared to have taken the attitude of “facing this problem head-on”.

“China’s internet users have been able to make sarcastic comments on the scandal so far. Meanwhile, the State Council also took immediate action to assemble a joint inspection team to tackle it,” said Wang, a former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post.

“It all seems to indicate that they want to turn the scandal into an opportunity for the party to live up to Xi’s famous command: the party’s mission is to meet people’s desire for a happy life.”

President Xi Jinping has repeatedly vowed to tackle China’s notorious food safety problems. In a 2013 speech, he said his heart “became very heavy” when he thought of these issues, and warned that the party’s legitimacy to rule would be questioned if it “cannot even do a good job in food safety”.

One political analyst based in mainland China said given the latest scandal, food safety was likely to be raised when the party’s Central Committee holds its third plenum from Monday, and it could be mentioned in the “resolution document” released after the meeting.

“Discussions including on reform will certainly include this topic as it’s the most crucial and important issue concerning people’s lives,” said the analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said the scandal would highlight the need to strengthen regulatory supervision and it could also have an impact on related Chinese exports and how they are transported.

Xie Maosong, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Strategic Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, agreed that food safety could get “a higher priority” in the final communique of the third plenum.

Meanwhile, the report that exposed the alleged malpractice shows that “media oversight is indispensable in any country, especially in contemporary China”, according to Zhan Jiang, who was a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University before he retired.

He said it could lead to a shift in the official mindset “that views media reporting on social issues and negative reports as disruptive and affecting stability”.

Investigative reporters have uncovered multiple food and drug safety scandals in China in recent decades, including milk formula being tainted with the chemical melamine, which resulted in the deaths of six infants.

But their work has become increasingly difficult as Beijing has continued to tighten control over the media.

Wang from Baptist University said the Beijing News report had uncovered a major scandal and “demonstrated that investigative journalism on the mainland is not dead … despite the political climate”.


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