Watchdog clears beer of formaldehyde fear
China's product quality watchdog has given the thumbs up to the nation's brewers, declaring yesterday that all beer on the mainland was safe and that formaldehyde levels were within established international limits.
The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine carried out an assessment in response to claims in a mainland newspaper that 95 per cent of the country's beer contained the carcinogen.
The claims in the Global Times, which were attributed to an inspector from the China Alcoholic Drinks Industry Association, quickly generated concern in Japan and South Korea.
The administration sent inspectors from nine offices to carry out spot checks on 157 labels brewed by 136 manufacturers in 19 provinces. They also examined 64 imported products from the US, Japan and South Korea.
They tested beers in major markets such as Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin and found the formaldehyde content below the World Health Organisation standard. The administration said: 'The formaldehyde in beer mainly comes from two sources: the formaldehyde created during the brewing process and the formaldehyde used as a processing aid to fasten the filtration of impurities.'
The report said that when within acceptable ranges, formaldehyde used in the beer industry would not harm health because it soon broke down during processing to negligible amounts.
The media was criticised for sensational reporting.
China is the world's biggest beer producer and exports US$76 million worth of the product each year. The fear generated by the week-long saga pushed down the share prices of beer companies, despite top firms saying they had stopped using formaldehyde years ago.
The reports hit China's overseas beer markets, with Seoul's food safety watchdog ordering a recall and tests on imported Chinese beer. Tokyo also demanded tests on imported Chinese beer. Beer is imported to Japan by seven companies in a trade that rose to 1.78 million barrels last year.
To counter the claims, China's biggest brewers, including Yanjing and Tsingtao, urged the quality inspection bureau to asses the standard of the nation's beers.
A staff member at the China Alcoholic Drinks Industry Association said it was satisfied with the watchdog's report.
But consumers may take longer to regain confidence.
'I was scared, though I don't drink much beer. After this event, I will never touch beer,' Beijing resident Deng Xiaofei said.