New affluence exposing consumers to danger

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2011, 12:00am

Regular product safety scandals including the latest revelations of illegal food additives, substandard rubber in tyres and recycled paper in napkins in violation of regulations have become distressingly commonplace on the mainland. Greed, corruption and inadequate monitoring often combine to produce harmful or even deadly consequences for consumers. The authorities have made all manner of promises to stamp out these practices, enacting laws and imposing rules, to little avail.

Each of these recent instances was highlighted by a CCTV programme that aired on Tuesday to mark World Consumer Rights Day. Undercover reporters found that inspection loopholes allowed the drug Clenbuterol to be fed to pigs to make meat leaner and to give it a pinker colour. When eaten, such pork can cause dizziness, fatigue and palpitations. Another segment showed how low-quality rubber was used by Kumho Tires, the top supplier to mainland carmakers. The tyres could swell or explode, putting the lives of drivers, passengers and other road users at risk.

None of this was surprising to viewers, who have little confidence in what they buy domestically. There have been so many scandals, from tainted milk powder to cancer-causing cooking oil to fake wine and eggs, among so much else. Recent surveys have shown that 70 per cent of respondents do not trust mainland food and goods.

Clearly, the mainland authorities need to redouble their efforts. There is little point in new laws or sanctions while corruption remains rampant. At the same time, there are too many government agencies in charge of enforcement of rules and legislation. Consumers would also benefit if media restrictions were lifted so that the public could be fully informed of potential threats to health and safety. Many other countries have suffered similar scandals but the sheer number of these on the mainland casts a pall over the dramatic improvement in living standards enjoyed by millions in recent decades. It is totally unacceptable that this new affluence exposes consumers to danger.