Shopping for fruit at a street market in China.

Shopping for fruit at a street market in China.

Recent scandals involving pet food and toothpaste in the United States, as well as those in China involving red-yolk duck eggs contaminated with an industrial dye and fish contaminated with carcinogenic residues, suggest that China’s food supply is in need of inspection!

China’s food regulatory system, which is intended to function much like that of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, does not have well-developed recall capabilities or long-term supervision of the food industry. One of the main issues is that there are more than 450,000 food-processing plants, of which 80 percent are small businesses, according to Ye Zhihua, a Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences researcher. However, some larger export-oriented processors do strive to meet HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, EurepGAP, and ISO (International Standards Organization) standards.

China’s fruit producers are more likely to have small acreages (less than three acres per producer) and generally sell to local brokers. These brokers then consolidate fruit from numerous farmers and sell to supermarkets, wholesalers, or, in some cases, exporters. Each broker may buy from literally hundreds of farmers to accumulate commercially viable quantities. Chinese exporters attempt to control the production procedures by specifying farmer production practices and chemical use, among other things, to reduce the likelihood of contamination. In other cases, they have long-term leases on land and manage the production process themselves to ensure their specifications are met.

Wholesale markets, which handle the majority of fruit sold in China, have government-mandated regulations on contamination and residue levels. However, enforcement is difficult, especially since fruit is typically sold and consumed long before the testing is completed. If particular brokers or specific areas consistently supply contaminated fruit, the wholesale market is obligated to ban the sale of fruit from those brokers or regions.

Chemical residues and biological contamination are among the reasons that many wealthier Chinese consumers are buying green or even organic food, since, in theory at least, it has been grown under much stricter production practices.

While China is working hard to establish and implement food-safety regulations, the vast number of small producers and small processors virtually guarantees that the percentage of fruit inspected and tested will remain very low.

So what does this mean for fruit producers in the United States? If you are selling fruit to China, the fact that it is clean, wholesome, and safe is an excellent selling point. In China, it is the responsibility of the company that is buying or producing products for export to ensure that the product meets its standards.

Food safety is a major concern to Chinese consumers as they demand safer food and to exporters as they strive to meet international standards. China’s fruit production, marketing, distribution, and inspection system is evolving and improving, and opportunities exist to meet Chinese consumer demand for high quality, safe products.