Those of you interested in China’s food industry may want to check out a new paper discussing the current state of China’s retail food sector. The US Foreign Agricultural Service has a great collection of their Global Agricultural Information Network reports (called GAIN Reports). They recently published their new analysis of China’s retail food sector. The review is geared more towards how it affects US producers and exporters, but it has a lot of fascinating detail that will interest any Sinophile as well as China expat. Here are a couple highlights, as discussed on The Packer website (China’s retailers, at least, are fat and happy):
Multinational chains such as Carrefour and Wal-Mart benefit from their reputation for offering better quality products than most domestic retailers, thanks to stricter quality control in a country where food safety is a major concern after several disturbing food scandals in recent years. In food products, especially fresh food, hypermarket retailers benefit from better hygiene controls and a higher volume flow rate, and are thus able to ensure better food safety for consumers. As such, an increasing number of Chinese consumers visit hypermarkets instead of independent food stores for grocery shopping. Fresh produce has become an attractive section to draw in Chinese consumers.
New Trends in Retail
Direct sourcing of food and agricultural products from farm cooperatives has been adopted by most retailers in Shanghai and is growing elsewhere. This allows retailers to address consumers‘ concerns about food safety, reduce cost, and possibly improve product quality. On the imported product side, Wal-Mart started to directly source and import U.S. cherries this year. Neighborhood Supermarkets were opened in Shanghai by Carrefour and Tesco this year. These outlets offer low prices and fresh food as their selling points.
I read an intriguing post recently on the Global Times about a Greenpeace investigation into China’s foreign-owned supermarket chains. This Greenpeace “Supermarket List for China” ranked the 15 largest supermarkets based on categories such as pesticides and GM foods. The report had Wal-Mart, Tesco, and Ito-Yokado rank at the bottom of the list, while Carrefour, Hyper Market, and Auchan received more positive comments:
According to Greenpeace China, they assessed 15 major supermarkets in China from three aspects. First is product tracking and control systems, where consumers can trace the supply chain. Secondly, key policies and commitments on reducing pesticide residue and avoiding GMF, especially fresh fruits, vegetables and rice. Thirdly transparency: the more honest companies are, the more they are willing to be supervised by consumers and capable of meeting their commitments.
The excellent website China Corporate Social Responsibilty also discusses this:
Wang Weikang, the food and agriculture project director of Greenpeace, told local media that the supermarkets that rank at the bottom of the list did not take any action in supervising the quality of the food products they sell, nor did they make any promise to improve. According to Wang, Wal-Mart did not provide any information on the questionnaire regarding gradually banning the use of pesticide or committing to no genetically modified food, nor did it provide any of the necessary information on its Chinese website — even though it has already made a commitment to British consumers on not providing genetically modified food. In addition, there is no such information either on the Chinese language website of Ito-Yokado though the information is offered on the Japanese language website of the company.
So far, supermarkets ranked at the bottom of the list have responded saying that they have always abided by the local laws and regulations and have adopted product quality standards that are up to, or higher than, the local government requirements.
Here’s the original Greenpeace article; it’s a PDF file but only in Chinese. I think this type of analysis does have its own agenda but is still helpful, as it brings to the surface a lot of underlying issues regarding food safety in China.
I’ve touched a bit on the state of China’s public health care system; now there’s an outstanding 4-part series from China Healthcare Blog discussing the state of rural health care and how it affects the elderly.
The main issues center on the lack of adequate health care for most rural Chinese; the elderly, with far more need for healthcare, are more vulnerable to this lack of services. Here’s a good quote from part 1:
The New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS) has considerably increased access to basic care in rural China. The coverage, however, only extends to inpatient acute care. This results in a system that is not geared to the health profile of a substantial proportion of its population. Thus healthcare costs increase with age, as health insurance coverage effectively decreases. In rural areas where health resources are already lacking in quantity and quality, the prospects of the elderly living a healthy life past sixty are rather bleak.
One interesting fact that people may not know is that China is aging quite rapidly, due to the one-child policy. This is different than most other developing countries, especially India. The long-term problem is that China hasn’t yet developed a good social net of health insurance or social security; China will slowly be losing that proportion of wage-earners who pay into the system that would pay for those services. So, China has a couple decades to really build up their social nets and provide adequate funding, before those added tax stresses start to hit workers.
It’s a bit, um, difficult to make air pollution a cool subject for kids. Even my recent slide show on air pollution left a few high-schoolers eyes glazed. Fortunately, I spread out a couple fun internet games to perk up the group. Fun and educational! Throw in free and you have an instant hour or two of kid-distractions.
The best collection is from the U.S. EPA:
I found a site from Taiwan: 空氣品質兒童網站
Anyone have other good links? Please share in the comment section below.
Smoking is an emormous global issue, not just among expats. As I discussed before, China’s smoking rate is astonishingly high with over 50% of men smoking. The (surprisingly?) excellent national daily newspaper Global Times this week has a good, comprehensive review of the situation, including growing efforts to control smoking by raising cigarette taxes. The major problem with that issue is that the tobacco tax is China’s #1 source of tax revenue; plus, all major tobacco companies are state owned. Here’s a good quote:
An estimated 350 million Chinese smoke and 3 million more take up the habit each year. Twenty-two percent of the world’s population is home to a third of its smokers, grows a third of the world’s tobacco and manufactures a third of its cigarettes.
The tobacco industry is China’s single-biggest taxpayer. The government raised 8.3 percent of its entire financial revenue – 513.1 billion yuan – from tobacco taxes in 2009 according to the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration.
The income does not even come close to the health costs, say the anti-smoking experts. About 1.2 million Chinese die from smoking-related diseases every year.
Lung cancer became the top cancer killer in 2008, according to the Ministry of Health, the number of cases quadrupling over the past 30 years.
Cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases cost the country 223.7 billion yuan annually, according to Li Ling, an economics professor at Peking University.
“Add to that the costs of other diseases and indirect costs such as fire and environmental pollution, the amount goes far beyond the tax revenue generated by the industry,” Li told a conference at Tsinghua University in Beijing.