European food manufacturers did nothing so dreadful when they sold horse as beef in burgers and lasagne. Horsemeat is not dangerous and had been a part of a lot of Italian and Chinese gourmets.
Yum Brands, owner of KFC restaurants, the largest chain in China by sales, found this to be true that the chicken served at its restaurants was unsafe. From the company that once boasted that its fried chicken was “finger-lickin’ good”, this sounds to be a defensive pitch. Campaigns like “OUR food is perfectly safe to eat” were followed.
McDonald’s problems stem from operational mishaps and has been hit by several health scares. Sales in China fell sharply after one of its suppliers was discovered to be using expired and contaminated chicken and beef. Several Japanese customers have reported finding bits of plastic and even a tooth in their food.
Coca-Cola was sued by a consumer group over health claims made for its Vitamin Water brand. Danone also faced a similar class-action lawsuit over its yogurts.
Public unease about genetic modification is common around the world. Conspiracy theories about supposed American plots to use dodgy GM food to weaken China abound online.
China is no stranger to quality problems. The US pet deaths—stemming from the contamination by melamine, a chemical toxin, of a vegetable protein used in animal foods—were not all that different from many other past cases in China. The contaminants also found their way into the human food chain, since “salvaged” pet food (left over from the production process) is fed to chickens and pigs, and wheat gluten also goes into feed for fish and farm animals. However, the massive scale of the pet-food recall, involving thousands of retail products, was unprecedented.
What is fuelling the crisis?
- Low prices: Though prices of raw materials are going up, penny-pinching consumers refuse to pay more for ready-meals. Retailers, equally unwilling to forgo profits, are putting relentless pressure on suppliers to cut costs.
- Natural food: The popularity of “natural” food spawns an unnatural response. Over the past decade, the biggest trend in food sector has been the shift towards organic, natural and whole foods. Consumers in wealthier markets have demanded foods with minimal processing, in a state as close as possible to their natural one.
Excuses made by food companies:
- Good food is made by production, not regulation.
- Food is vastly safer than it was a century ago.
- It is easy to cast food companies as villains.
Discussing possible solutions:
There is a need to manage the entire supply chain. It is quite difficult to build that trust, but it can be very easy to lose it.
Understanding the risks and defining an action plan. Food safety risks can be divided into actionable steps:
- Production: Chemical residues
- Storage and transport: Spoilage
- Processing: Preservatives, additives, spoilage and adulteration
- Supply outlet, consumption and disposal: Spoilage
Warning labels for safe stuff. One way or another, labelling of GM food may be coming. It may require most foodstuffs sold in retail outlets to bear a conspicuous label if they contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients.
Avoid misuse of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. There is a need to learn good agriculture practices and knowledge on how to more efficiently use fertilisers and pesticides to increase yields and subsequently income.
Please feel free to share your experiences and feedback in the comments section below.