September 29, 2008
Fat Chinese Cats Eat Well — While Infants Drink Contaminated Milk
By Anita Chang
BEIJING - While China grapples with its latest tainted food crisis, the political elite are served the choicest, safest delicacies. They get hormone-free beef from the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, organic tea from the foothills of Tibet and rice watered by melted mountain snow.
That secure food supply stands in stark contrast to the frustrations of ordinary citizens who have faced recurring food scandals - vegetables with harmful pesticide residue, fish tainted with a cancer-causing chemical, eggs colored with industrial dye, fake liquor causing blindness or death, holiday pastries with bacteria-laden filling.
Now that the country's most reputable dairies have been found selling baby formula and other milk products tainted with an industrial chemical that can cause kidney stones and kidney failure, many Chinese don't know what to buy. Tens of thousands of children have been sickened and four babies have died.
Knowing that their leaders do not face these problems has made some people angry.
"Food safety is a high priority for children and families of government officials, so are normal citizens less entitled to safe food?" asked Zhong Lixun, feeding her 7-month-old grandson baby formula after he got checked for kidney stones at Beijing Children's Hospital.
The State Council Central Government Offices Special Food Supply Center is specifically designed to avoid the problems troubling the general population.
"We all know that average production facilities use large quantities of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Antibiotics and hormones are commonly used in raising livestock and poultry. Farmed aquatic products are contaminated by various kinds of water pollution," the center's director, Zhu Yonglan, said in a speech earlier this year.
"It goes without saying that these are harmful when consumed by humans," Zhu told executives at supplier Shandong Ke'er Biological Medical Technology Development Co., which posted it on its Web site.
Zhu's speech has been widely circulated by Chinese Internet users on blogs and forums, with many expressing outrage that top government officials have a separate - and safer - food supply than the public.
The special food center enforces strict standards on suppliers. Foods must be organic, not genetically modified and meet international food standards, said a manager in the center's product department, who only gave her surname, Zhang.
The reason: its A-list clientele of government officials and retirees of vice minister rank or higher.
Set up in 2004, China's Special Food Supply Center is almost as secretive as its high-end clientele, whose precise number is unclear, but includes hundreds of top political leaders, their families and retired cadres. Much of the information on its Web site was removed after media inquiries and interview requests.
The privileged few
It's not unusual for China's leadership to have a special food supply; the practice stretches back thousands of years to farms providing ingredients for lavish imperial meals or the greasy, spicy dishes favored by Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong.
The former Soviet Union's ruling classes also ate food that was unavailable to the masses.
In North Korea, where withering famines have seen tens of thousands starve over the past 13 years, leader Kim Jong Il is a gourmet known for his love of lobster, shark's fin soup and sushi. His former private chef has said Kim keeps an extensive collection of vintage French wines.
- Associated Press
Originally published by Anita Chang Associated Press .
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