Eating in China

Below is a January 20, 2016 editorial from The Standard, sent to me by Todd DeMatteo, a close friend and uber investment banker. Todd and I have traveled in China, conducting business and sampling various regional cuisines. When in season, our hosts almost always invite us to feast on hairy crabs, as they’re considered a delicacy. However, from the article below, you’ll see that these crustaceans are often found to contain dioxin, a known carcinogen. As scary as this sounds, it didn’t overly surprise either Todd or I, as Chinese farmers often irrigate their land with the same contaminated river water where the crabs are found. Therefore, I’m sure during the nearly 14 years I’ve traveled throughout China that I’ve ingested a long checklist of substances that have been banned by the EPA. Fortunately, I’m in good health, so the McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, and other health food supplements I‘ve taken in between these meals seem to have protected me. I should also mention that vodka is similarly considered a health restorative.

The irony is, contaminated or not, the food is generally tasty throughout the country. Therefore, there’s not a hint that what you’re eating contains anything harmful. Fortunately, the levels of pollutants in food seem to be minute enough that people are not dropping like flies after they eat. Therefore, if you go to China stay away from hairy crabs. It also might be a good idea to not eat from locally caught seafood, as most rivers in China are heavily polluted. As for me, I live in denial and am polite to my hosts, eating what’s in front of me. So far that’s worked. However, if my posts suddenly cease, it might be because I stopped eating or drinking the nutritional supplements mentioned above, and living in denial finally caught up with me.

No muddy waters in crab row, please!

The hairy crab feasting season may be over for the year, but the controversy over the finding of carcinogenic chemicals in some of the crustaceans from Lake Tai in Jiangsu is far from over

Yesterday, pro-establishment “matriarch” lawmaker Ann Chiang Lai- wan took a cue from her rivals – challenging food-safety officials to have a lavish feed of the hairy crabs to prove they’re safe to eat.

Chiang’s move wasn’t entirely innovative.

Remember that at the height of the tainted water scare last year, the Democratic Party’s Helena Wong Pik-wan dared water-supply officials to drink water they insisted was safe to consume?

Then Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng

Yuet-ngor told the public servants not to bow to Wong’s challenge to drink the water.

A year later, will Lam similarly order food-safety controller Gloria Tam Lai-fan and her colleagues to ignore Chiang?

Lam should – regardless of any designs she may have on running for chief executive.

She should agree that when the food-safety technocrats banned some of the hairy crabs found to have “excessive” amounts of dioxin, they must have public health in mind, and were acting in good faith.

That said, some questions voiced by the distributors – including a few challenging the ban in the court – appear to be legitimate, and it would be in the public interest for the food-safety authority to clarify the picture.

First, it’s about the dioxin test. In a Legislative Council meeting, it was confirmed the government had tested for dioxin in hairy crabs for years, with satisfactory results in the past two years. But it was no longer as safe this year, after dioxin was found to be excessive in some samples.

Common sense would expect a dioxin safety standard to exist somewhere in the regulations. But then officials went on to say dioxin isn’t included in the food-safety regulations in the mainland or SAR. That’s totally bizarre, making the statements before and after contradict each other.

As confusing as it seems, how can the authority expect the trade to comply with a standard that isn’t specific for compliance?

Then, it’s also tempting to ask how the food-safety center can decide if a test result complies with or violates the safety boundary – if there’s no official yardstick to refer to? Please don’t tell us there’s a set of such standards, but for their eyes only.

This is a fundamental point the food- safety center should clarify.

The distributors also claimed the center hadn’t applied for a proper safety order in accordance with the Food Safety Ordinance.

Was that true? It would be worrisome if it was the case, as the authority should be expected to act lawfully too.

While the questions will hopefully be answered in the near future, it’s necessary to clarify any ambiguity, so that it’ll be easy for everyone to follow while Hong Kong gets ready for the next hairy crab feasting season.