Cardboard-filled buns story 'a hoax'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2007, 12:00am

Public doubts persist after Beijing television network claims a tainted-food report was faked by a 'temporary employee'

An investigative television report on cardboard-stuffed steamed buns sold in Beijing has been declared a hoax, but the verdict is unlikely to dispel lingering public concerns over food safety on the mainland.

Beijing TV (BTV), which has been fighting aggressively for supremacy among the mainland's many regional television networks, was forced to make an embarrassing apology on Wednesday over the story on the cardboard-filled buns.

It said the reporter was a temporary employee, identified as Zi Beijia , who was now in police custody and faced possible criminal charges. BTV's apology was broadcast nationwide last night by CCTV. The All-China Journalists Association went a step further, publicly denouncing Zi, saying his fake story had brought shame on the country.

The report, aired on July 8, claimed an unlicensed restaurant in Beijing was churning out steamed buns filled with a mixture of pork and cardboard soaked in a chemical.

The 'expose' purportedly showed a seller of the buns, known as baozi, softening shredded cardboard with an industrial chemical - early reports said caustic soda - and fortifying the bogus meat with a bit of fatty pork.

The story quickly made headlines across the mainland and then around the world.

A subsequent investigation found that the reporter had provided the ingredients to a migrant worker who was then filmed making the buns.

China Youth University for Political Sciences professor Zhan Jiang said: 'The hoax news struck a chord with public sentiment [over food-safety concerns].'

Mainlanders have grown increasingly wary of spiked foods and unsafe drinking water following a spate of high-profile scandals, including supplies of chemical-laced farmed fish sold overseas and a recent blue-green algae outbreak on Tai Lake, in Jiangsu province , that left more than a million people without drinking water for several days.

Toxic seafood, virus-plagued pigs and chemical-laden toothpaste are just some of the other tainted goods to have been discovered in recent months.

The concerns about food security have been so overwhelming that many greeted the exposure of the hoax report with disbelief.

One internet posting titled - 'Who can we rely on for truth about cardboard-filled buns?' - reflected the widespread frustration felt among mainlanders over the lack of official transparency.

Professor Zhan said scepticism about the story being a hoax would remain strong unless the public was offered a proper explanation as to how the story could have been made and then broadcast by a tightly controlled media outlet.

The public also needed to know how investigators reached the conclusion that it was a hoax.

He was disgusted by BTV's handling of the disgraced reporter.

'The stress put on the fact that Zi was a temporary employee is an apparent attempt to skirt its responsibility,' Professor Zhan said.