Throw It Out the Window: China’s endless food safety scares

Calum MacLeod of USA Today reports China’s authoritarian government struggles to reassure citizens than it can deliver the safe food they rank as a top priority.

In the city of Guangzhou, whose Cantonese cuisine is celebrated worldwide, more than 46% of residents are dissatisfied with food safety, and over 37% said they had suffered recent food safety problems, according to a survey released this month by the Guangzhou Public Opinion Research Center.

"There are two Chinas on the tip of the tongue," says Shanghai student Wu Heng, a fan of the series. "There’s the China shown on TV, with its traditional food culture and long history. Then there’s another China shown on my website, the current environment in which black-hearted enterprises make black-hearted foodstuffs and have a large market."

Wu, 26, became active in the food safety cause because of his favorite dish of braised beef and rice. Startled by a news report on fake beef, he was inspired to create an online food safety database that allows visitors to add the latest problems nationwide, often involving the illegal use of additives.

With his website, "Throw It Out the Window," Wu hopes more public awareness and pressure will produce bold steps to tackle China’s food safety crisis. His site’s popularity is soaring at a million-plus views a day, Wu says.

Food safety has already taken a turn for the better, says Wu Yongning, chief food safety scientist at the Ministry of Health in Beijing, who insists there are less serious incidents today than four or five years ago.

"There is greater media supervision now which exposes problems and makes the government play the role it should," he says.