Here's an old Private Eye piece from the 1970s, spoofing the butter ad campaigns of the time which focused on the artificial and unhealthy nature of margarine. The 'ad' describes the magarine manufacturing process as
- old magazines melted down to a pulp
- treated sewage added for protein
- solubles drained into rusty oil drum
- tobacco ash added as stablisers
- animal glue added
- yellow paint for colouring
- crushed deadly nightshade seeds for preservatives
- huge rats make their home in the bottom of the drums
- millions of bird droppings fall from the roof into the vats
- margarine is poured into plastic tubs to poison you
This reminded me of the food quality scandals in China. My favourite was the fake eggs story. Allegedly made in China but selling in Vietnam the fake eggs were created from borax, alum, glue and "several organic acids" (i.e. nearly as bad as British sausages). But exotic examples aside, food scandals are a regular feature in the Chinese press. Issues include dangerous levels of pollutants and carcinogenic dyes and manufacturers' extreme bad practice. Established brands are no exception to this; a big local dairy last year was exposed for 'recycling' expired milk back into fresh batches and even international retailers often leave expired food, sometimes years past sell-by dates, on shelves. Profit is the obvious motivation but speed of growth in the food market is key too. The food industry in China has grown by 1000% in the last ten years but this boom is unstructured and poorly regulated. Even setting obvious and scurrilous abuses aside, the government reports that 64% of food suppliers surveyed last year were found to be below even basic hygienic standards.
And on that note, I'm off for lunch.