18th Party Congress

Girl reporter embarrasses ministers with question on food safety

11-year-old reporter embarrasses ministers by asking why she can no longer enjoy snacks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 4:43am

An 11-year-old reporter's unexpectedly pointed question about poisoned food left some top party ministers dumbstruck and embarrassed yesterday, shaking up an otherwise tightly scripted 18th party congress event.

Sun Luyuan , a grade-six pupil representing the Chinese Teenagers News, asked officials gathered for a key group meeting how the country's food safety record had got so bad that she and her classmates could no longer eat snacks.

"I love snacks, but I don't dare to eat snacks now and neither do my classmates, as there are so many poisoned foods on the market," the Beijing girl said. "So my question to all the minister-level uncles and aunties is: how can we children eat foods without concern?"

The question broke the otherwise lethargic atmosphere in the meeting room as officials suddenly straightened in their seats. But Ma Kai , the meeting's host and secretary general of the State Council, just smiled.

He assigned the question to Education Minister Yuan Guiren . Yuan gave a stock answer, noting that food safety was a global concern and that problems occur sometimes.

"We have prepared a series of oversight systems to guarantee food safety," he said.

Sun said she was happy with the answer and would pass it to her anxious classmates. She said she chose the question on her own after reading about so many food safety scandal stories.

These have involved everything from tainted milk to toxic rice, to dyed buns and recycled "gutter" oil. The most dramatic case was in 2008, when six children died and more than 300,000 fell ill from drinking melamine-tainted baby formula. Melamine was added to raw milk to boost its protein level.

Sun was confident the food-safety issue would improve. "I believe the ministers will find a solution, and yes, I'm optimistic."