Business Wire carried this story recently. AsiaInspection (a company that conducts plant audits in several Asian markets for businesses importing from those plants http://www.asiainspection.com/) released its findings in the food sector of China. The report said that:
…in 2011 51% of food inspections conducted in Mainland China failed. While the majority of these inspections were failed because of minor defects, 10% were for critical defects…The fact that over half of all Chinese food inspections fail is even more alarming when compared to an average failure rate for non-food products of about 30%. Evidence of this overwhelming deficit in food safety is supported by government figures. According to China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce, in 2011 62,000 illegal food cases were reported. Additionally, authorities stopped the operation of 43,000 unlicensed food-producing businesses found to be operating illegally and revoked the business licenses of 576 operators during the same period.
Food safety is not limited to only the food itself. Food packaging, with a 2011 inspection failure rate of 57% is just as critical. “Food packaging defects may not seem critical,” says Sebastien Breteau, CEO of AsiaInspection. “But by the time food leaves the factory and hits store shelves, toxic amounts of contaminants like formaldehyde and lead can leech out of packaging, contaminate food and cause serious harm to consumers.” According to FERA, the United Kingdom’s governing food and environment agency, common chemical contaminants like the infamous melamine often come from food cans and lids or from plastic food containers.
Melamine – responsible for the infamous 2008 Sanlu milk scandal sickening over 300,000 – has been found at high levels in canned dog food shipments as recently as January 2011. Chinese milk is back in the news as well, as this December China’s largest dairy company, Mengniu, destroyed a batch of milk contaminated with Aflatoxin, a substance commonly found in mildewed animal feed that can cause liver cancer. The chemical was found during a random spot check by the Chinese governing body AQSIQ. Only 10% of the batches contained the deadly chemical, meaning it was only by a slim chance that a random spot check found the defect before the product reached consumers. Like melamine, other chemicals that are banned by the Chinese government due to deadly effects are still routinely found in shipments of food products. According to Food and Water Watch, one such substance, clembuterol – which is toxic to humans – is administered to animals to give them leaner meat and pinker skin. “China exported over 4.5 billion tons of food in 2011 alone,” says Mr. Antoine Bloch, Asia-Pacific Vice President of Silliker – a partner of AsiaFoodInspection with AsiaInspection. “With chemical and natural contaminants threatening food available to all of us, the need for prevention in the form of comprehensive laboratory testing has never been clearer.”
This is a story of note, in my opinion, for several reasons. First, it points to one of the more serious threats to China’s continued economic growth, namely the poor record for consistent quality of products including foods, that could reduce demand for products made in China not only by consumers outside of China but also of the growing middle-class consumer in China. Second, it highlights a rather interesting company, AsiaInspection; for Black Belts and other performance improvement professionals, this kind of organization is one to note in terms of career opportunities because I suspect this is an area that will only grow in demand. It also highlights the need and opportunity in markets like China for performance and quality improvement including ones under the banner of “Lean Six Sigma.”