Secretary of Agriculture John Block is scheduled to appear at ceremonies in Peking tomorrow to unveil a $1.5 million automated bakery built with funds from the Chinese, various U.S. wheat growers and the Department of Agriculture.
The Americans hope to sell more wheat and bakery equipment. The Chinese want to increase consumption of bread in their country. Bakeries are rare in China, and the government thinks a nation eating more bread and less rice (which takes considerable time to cook) would translate into greater national productivity.
But according to someone familiar with the project--a baker who prefers to remain unnamed--there are a few problems. In a nation with plenty of labor, China's new super-bakery is more automated than many American bakeries. And it will be difficult to keep in operating condition because of the sophistication of the equipment and the need for absolute uniformity of raw ingredients in all steps of the production.
"It may be a showpiece for both countries," says the baker who has watched the project since its inception, "but it just isn't going to work. Even if you have all American-trained bakery technicians, they just don't have the ingredients available to run a bakery like that."
The Chinese want trainees to learn to operate the plant, which is supposed to turn out 1,800 loaves of bread an hour. A spokesman at U.S. Wheat Associates, a trade group that helped build the bakery, says, "This is the most modern thing China has ever seen.