By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 22, 2008
BEIJING, Feb. 21 -- Stung by accusations that Beijing's food and water are contaminated, China on Thursday defended its standards and expressed disappointment that U.S. athletes will ship their own meat to China for the Olympic Games.
"I feel it's a pity that they have decided to bring their own food," said Kang Yi, chief of the catering division for the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, adding that the organizers had made plans for the athletes to dine together. "If the American delegation is not at that gathering, it's a pity."
A report in the New York Times this month said the U.S. Olympic Committee, in part worried about steroids in chicken, had made arrangements with sponsors to ship 25,000 pounds of lean protein to China two months before the opening ceremony. The 600-member U.S. delegation will eat at its own training center and avoid food at the athletes' village, which will house and feed 17,000 people during the Games, the paper said.
Tang Yunhua, spokeswoman for the Beijing Municipal Office for Food Safety, said a high-tech supervision system would closely monitor food sources from production to the catering table.
"We have established a sound food safety system, and food safety standards for the Olympic Games are much more strict than international standards," Tang said. A Web-based network of supervisory agents will closely monitor animals' breeding information and ingestion of medicines as well as the use of pesticides on vegetables. Electronic bar codes will allow officials to track the origins of produce.
Tang also warned that food and drugs cannot be taken into the Olympic Village and that visitors to China would have to comply with all rules and regulations when trying to bring in their own food.
"We can guarantee the drinking water is safe," Tang added, in part because sponsors will provide bottled water.
Chinese citizens have been concerned about their food and water after state media reports about tainted or substandard pork and shellfish and dangerous chemical additives. Sometimes the contamination is caused by greed as companies cut corners or farmers use banned pesticides in order to increase profits. Often it is a result of lax enforcement of the law.
For example, more than 40 percent of the drinking water in rural areas is unsafe because of excessive levels of coliform bacteria or improper sewage and refuse disposal, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health said this week, according to the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong daily.
Last June, a report in the state-run Beijing Times said almost half the barreled water sold and used in coolers in the city could be less pure than advertised either because it was really tap water or a mislabeled and cheaper brand of purified water.