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July 22, 2017

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Price of living in a globalized world: Fake labels, exorbitant costs of imports

EVERYONE knows that counterfeit products are a huge thing in China — from designer bags to electronics to jewelry, and everything in-between.

Wearing fake Ray Bans that look like the real thing but cost just a fraction can feel exhilarating, but when we find out that something we’ve put in our stomachs is not what we had been led to believe, alarm bells understandably begin to ring.

Chinese people are massive buyers of overseas food products, largely because, depending on the country of origin, said products are viewed as safer and of a higher quality. And they’re willing to pay higher prices for this peace of mind.

As a New Zealander, I’m obligated to bring up at least one New Zealand example: milk. New Zealand dairy products are hugely popular in China, playing a large role in China recently becoming my country’s most valuable trading partner.

The desire to buy products considered safer for consumption shouldn’t come as a surprise when you take into account the high-profile food scandals that have rocked China over the past few years.

This has led Chinese citizens to become almost hyper vigilant when it comes to what they eat, which means that billions of dollars are being spent on food that comes from overseas.

Another big New Zealand import to China are fruits, kiwifruit in particular. Back home it’s one of my favorite fruits, and not just because of its refreshing taste — did you know that kiwifruit has more vitamin C per weight than oranges? Now you do!

But any New Zealand kiwifruit lover in Shanghai knows that those little, brown balls of vitamin C don’t come cheap! Buying just one New Zealand kiwifruit here can set you back 5 yuan (70 US cents) or 6 yuan, compared with just 5-10 yuan a kilogram back home at the height of the season.

This kind of markup in price for imported fruit led to a criminal ring of fruit sticker makers producing fake labels to place on Chinese-grown fruit, including rip-off stickers of New Zealand’s famous Zespri brand.

Nine people were arrested in Shanghai this week for selling the stickers to fruit sellers who used the phony labels to hike up prices, and profits.

Some 2 million stickers were seized in raids that spanned three districts.

To be honest, I don’t share the same fear of certain foods, or the same obsession with safety, that many Chinese have. Perhaps I should. Instead, I can get quite obsessed with price, and I hate being ripped off.

I’ve checked out New Zealand Zespri kiwifruit in stores here and am always tempted to splash out for a little taste of back home, except the high prices — and my memories of super-cheap kiwifruit back home when they’re in season — always puts me off in the end.

I can’t imagine just how betrayed I would have felt, if I happened to be a regular Zespri buyer, upon news of this mini-scandal.

I’m not worried at all about eating Chinese-grown kiwifruit, but if I paid top dollar for a taste of home and had the wool — mind the New Zealand pun — pulled over my eyes, I’d probably be livid!

But this is the price we pay for living in an ever-globalized world, and we need to get used to it. How sure can you really be that what you’re buying is what it is said to be? The tough news is, unless you bought these products yourself, from the place of origin, you can’t be totally sure at all.

The bad news is that some fruit vendors are willing to deceive their customers, so we still need to be vigilant.

The good news is that the Shanghai government is working hard to stamp out food deception, and getting 2 million fake fruit stickers off the streets is a big achievement. I’m still not going to spend 6 yuan to buy one kiwifruit, though!


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