Friday, 25 July 2014

Another Food Scandal

The fast-food restaurant had been serving bad meat processed in Shanghai
McDonald's has been in crisis mode since Sunday when Shanghai broadcaster Dragon TV reported that meat supplier Husi reprocessed and repackaged old beef and chicken and put new expiration dates on them.

Not only were they sold to the fast-food restaurant with the golden arches, but also KFC and Pizza Hut.

Owned by Illinois-based OSI Group, Husi has a plant in Shanghai that is at the centre of the scandal.

Not only are McDonald's outlets in China affected, but also in Hong Kong.

What made it worse was that McDonald's Hong Kong first denied it imported any food products from the Shanghai plant, but then yesterday apologized for the "confusion" and said the food served from now on in the city was not from Shanghai Husi.

The Hong Kong government had earlier announced an immediate ban of the import and sales of products from Husi Food Company.

Assistant director of food and environmental hygiene Dr Lee Siu-yuen stated that any Husi food already in Hong Kong would be sealed and stored in warehouses.

The fast-food restaurant had been importing cooked chicken leg meat from Husi's Shanghai plant since May, and from July to December last year it had imported 10 batches of frozen pork from Shanghai Husi.

There are concerns the meat also made its way to Japan, where McDonald's there said 20 percent of its meat for chicken nuggets was supplied by Husi.

Meanwhile OSI Group chief executive officer Sheldon Lavin apologized to "all of our customers in China". He said the incident "was terribly wrong" and "I am appalled that it ever happened in the company that I own".

So far five Husi executives have been questioned by Shanghai police. Surely charges will follow.

This incident clearly demonstrates that six years on, the Chinese government still has not set up an effective accountability system to ensure food products produced on the mainland are safe to eat.

There was such a huge uproar in July 2008 following the melamine milk scandal in which at least six infants died and hundreds of thousands more became ill from drinking powdered milk laced with melamine to make the milk seem like it had higher protein content, but in fact was just watered-down milk.

This resulted in over 300,000 children with malnutrition and kidney damage.

Beijing promised to set up 800 testing centres around the country, 80 of which are dedicated to food.

But because there are so many small producers, the government doesn't have enough inspectors to go around. And even then some may be easily corrupted by bribes.

As a result China's already precarious food quality reputation is at risk again and one wonders when the country will get its act together. As others have said before -- you can sell us cheap clothing and shoes, but contaminated food is where we draw the line.

Perhaps the upside is that people won't be eating at McDonald's for a while, but also it has forced the public to question where their food comes from and do restaurants really check on their suppliers.

Not only is the Chinese government to blame, but so is OSI Group and Lavin for not knowing what was going on in the Shanghai plant. Since when is it OK to reprocess rotten meat? Not only is it a health issue, but also morally wrong.

And then for McDonald's Hong Kong to flip flop on such a serious issue demonstrates its unwillingness to deal with the problem, or it too is unsure of where all its food products come from.

Fast-food restaurants seem to have a disconnect when it comes to food quality -- it's not just about the bottom line anymore.

The public cannot afford to eat bad food.

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