Fears of Chinese food products spread after video of Tsingtao worker urinating

Tsingtao beer products are on display at a supermarket in Seoul, Monday, amid growing controversy over a viral video showing a Tsingtao factory worker urinating into a tank believed to contain raw ingredients. Yonhap

Increasing imports of cheaper Chinese food products amid high inflation add to concerns
By Jun Ji-hye

Fears of Chinese-made food products are spreading among Korean consumers, once again, after a video went viral last week showing a worker at a Tsingtao beer factory urinating into a tank believed to contain raw ingredients.

The video, which has received tens of millions of views on social media worldwide since being uploaded last Thursday, purportedly shows a worker dressed in a uniform clambering into a high-walled container and urinating inside it.

The clip is believed to have been recorded at Tsingtao Brewery No. 3, according to a statement released on Friday by Tsingtao, one of China's top beer producers and exporters. The company said in the statement that it had contacted the police to investigate the incident.

This screenshot of the viral video shows a Tsingtao beer factory worker urinating into a tank believed to contain raw ingredients. Yonhap

Both the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety and the local importer of Tsingtao stressed that Tsingtao products imported to Korea are not connected to the factory in question, saying that the factory in the video produces beer only for the domestic Chinese market.

However, such an explanation failed to appease consumers here who are raising questions over the quality control system and hygiene standards at the company.

“It's not a matter of whether the products were for the domestic market or export, as the incident has already undermined public trust in the company. Consumers do not know what is happening at other Tsingtao factories,” a 37-year-old office worker in Seoul said on condition of anonymity.

Consumer anger and anxiety are mounting as similar incidents concerning the hygiene of Chinese-made food and drink products have cropped up almost every year.

A man who appears to be topless stirs cabbages in a murky liquid while a rusty excavator picks them up at a kimchi factory in China. Korea Times file

In 2021, in a video clip titled “Kimchi making in China,” which went viral online, a topless man is seen stirring cabbages floating in murky liquid and throwing them to a rusty excavator shovel.

Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish normally made of fermented cabbage, salt and hot peppers, and is eaten with almost all meals. Though it is a traditional Korean food, kimchi made in China has been served in many restaurants in Korea as it is cheaper than domestic options.

Experts, at the time, said that there was a low possibility that the kimchi in question had been imported to Korea, but the incident triggered apprehension over commercially made kimchi in China, resulting in a rapid decrease in its importation.

In 2008, a deadly milk scandal, in which Chinese suppliers added melamine to infant milk powder to artificially boost protein levels, also shocked consumers around the world. Melamine is a chemical used to make plastic.

The incident, which exposed institutional neglect of food safety in China, poisoned some 300,000 children and killed six.

According to 2021 data from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety related to overseas products found to be inappropriate for import into Korea, one in three cases involved products from China. Chinese products accounted for the highest proportion of questionable quality, standing at 33.2 percent, followed by 9.2 percent from the U.S. and 7.2 percent from Vietnam.

Adding to concerns lately is the increasing importation of competitively priced Chinese food products amid high inflation in Korea, following the transition from the COVID-19 pandemic to the endemic stage.

For example, nearly 120,000 tons of Chinese-made kimchi were imported to Korea from the January-May period, up 20.7 percent from a year earlier, according to statistics analyzed by the Korea Customs Service.

Kim Yong-gil, a former law professor of Wonkwang University who specializes in laws governing Chinese food products, attributed the continued hygiene controversies to the locations of Chinese food factories, as many of them are located in rural areas where working and living conditions are substandard.

“In addition, monitoring and control of state institutions is not sufficient, and some individuals there have relatively low hygiene awareness,” Kim said during a CBS radio appearance, Tuesday, noting that consumers should thoroughly check expiry dates, nutrition elements and other details before purchasing food products.

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