Profits 'blind' eyes of food inspectors

BEIJING - The profit-driven mentality of some supervisory organs is being blamed for the growing number of food-safety scandals across the country, Xinhua News Agency reported on Tuesday.

An unidentified whistleblower from a quality and technical supervision bureau in Shandong province said supervisory bureaus earn profits from fines and charges on illegal business behaviors, Xinhua reported, so they are loath to close companies down.

The whistleblower described the role of supervisors as "turning a blind eye to local companies' illegal operations and receiving kickbacks from punishments", the report said.

This phenomenon in some regions acts as a loophole in quality supervision, said Sang Liwei, a food-safety lawyer in Beijing and a representative of the Global Food Safety Forum, a non-government organization.

"How can you expect food safety watchdogs to hand down a harsh punishment or shut down illegal companies if they are not financially independent from the companies?" Sang questioned.

Therefore, the fines have actually become a kind of protection fee which give manufacturers a green light to make profits from selling poor quality or even poisonous products, Sang said.

Earlier media reports said that making fake wine had become a booming industry in Changli county, North China's Hebei province, where numerous wineries, additive suppliers and brand label manufacturers worked together for years to make counterfeit wines.

The local government decided to shut down about 30 wineries last December only after footage on China Central Television showed a sales manager in a local winery revealing that some of the county's wine was made from water and chemicals, such as color additives and citric acid.

Food safety problems have not only hurt the public's health but also destroyed consumer confidence toward the country's food products.

Liao Jiaming, a resident in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong province, told China Daily that she cannot find an appropriate word to express her fury and disappointment.

"The vegetables we eat are tainted by pesticide, the pork is from pigs fed with lean meat powder and even the toilet paper is made from carcinogenic materials," Liao said in a sad tone.

"Sometimes, I have to buy expensive imported products and hope they are relatively safer," Liao added.

People are too concerned about making quick money and short-term success during a period of economic and social transition, said Wang Dingmian, former vice-chairman of the Guangdong Provincial Dairy Association.

Businessmen and companies also need to take more social responsibility and take consumers' health into account before more Chinese customers abandon them, Wang said.

Apart from government and public supervision, Wang also urged the establishment of a mechanism to encourage whistleblowers.

"We should protect those employees who feel obliged to expose the dirty business their companies are doing that harms the public's interests," Wang said.

-China Daily/Asia News Network