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April 18, 2011

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Food sellers make false produce claims

FOOD sellers often falsely claim their produce comes from well-known places to attract customers and boost profits, an investigation by Shanghai Daily has found.

Industry insiders said market watchdogs don't have the manpower to crack down on such behavior and that they aren't worried about it because the practice doesn't cause any harm to human health.

The practice is most common with fruit, vegetables and pork.

Strawberries are in season now and in a recent case, Lu Jing, a local housewife, was happy after buying some large strawberries at a fair price. The retailer told her the milky strawberries, a sweet species, were grown in Qingpu District, the city's home for the berries.

Lu was disappointed after going home and eating the tasteless berries.

Yuan Yaxiang, an expert with the Shanghai Fruit Association, said she must have bought strawberries with a chemical that makes the fruit grow bigger, but ruins the taste. The strawberries were most likely not milky strawberries from Qingpu.

"It's quite common for fruit sellers to disguise poor-quality fruit as good produce with well-known origins," Yuan said. "Market supervisory officers don't have the staff or energy to stop this because fruit with fake origins won't kill people."

Fruit sellers tend to sell apples grown in Shanxi and Gansu provinces as those from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. They also sell homegrown Red Delicious apples as imported from the United States and Hainan Province's bananas as those from the Philippines. By doing so they can charge more, Yuan said.

"There are no good ways to stop the lies since we association officers don't have the right to enforce the law. Consumers have to try their luck when buying fruit or learn more about how to distinguish good fruit from bad," Yuan said.

A manager who declined to be identified in Shanhua Fruit Wholesale Market agreed that it was difficult to get evidence to prove the real origin of the fruit.

He said they don't strictly check the origins of produce because if they did, those sellers would just move to another market.

All of this leaves customers confused.

"Who knows if the food really comes from where they say it does," said Lu Caiyan, who was buying fresh food at a market. "As long as the food is of good quality, I have no worries."

In another recent case, retailers who falsely claimed they were selling Shuanghui pork have now switched to other brands after a scandal emerged in which clenbuterol was given to Shuanghui pigs to make them grow more lean meat.

Clenbuterol can be harmful to human health.

Retailers said they stock qualified pork from legal wholesale markets and then just select popular brands at will to attract more customers.

At a market in Baoshan District, a pork seller changed his advertising board to "ecological pork" from the original Shuanghui.


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