T omate pulp and apple juice concentrate, garlic, spices and casings for german sausages, asparagus, tangerines and other fruit, whether canned, jarred or deep-frozen: all this is increasingly being imported cheaply from the far east. And german consumers have no idea what all comes from china: hardly any manufacturers label it, because that is not mandatory for processed foodstuffs. If they are peeled, snipped, dried, ground, frozen or boiled down, the origin does not have to be indicated. The customer can’t tell where the various ingredients for discount bread, jam, ketchup and sausage come from.
A law against cheating packages
From april 2020, a new law will ban at least one apparently deliberate consumer swap across europe. Then the true country of origin must be indicated when the packaging suggests that the product came from another country. So if, for example, the tomato paste tube "made in italy" if the tomatoes are from china and the food is in italian national colors and italian terms, it must be on the tube. Tomatoes are one of china’s top food exports. Garlic another: 80 percent of the world’s production comes from china (see graphic in the picture gallery).
In garlic country near nurnberg, on the other hand, almost no garlic is grown. Mario jonke of the franken-gemuse knoblauchsland cooperative explains that the little that is harvested goes fresh directly to the end consumer. The name did not come specifically from garlic, but probably either from the knobloch family or from the smell of the area: there are many onion plants here. "With leeks, regionality is the name of the game." Tomatoes are also grown here – also for the fresh market, where the growing region must be labeled. "The problem is that the origin of many products does not have to be stated on the label." But not only: "people say they want regional products, but in the end they only look at the price." And the price of chinese goods is usually unbeatable.
When imports and exports are added together, china is already our most important trading partner. We export machines, cars and parts and import electronics and cheap clothes made in china. Low prices have so far been the chinese specialty. Also with food.
Agriculture accounts for only ten percent of china’s gross domestic product, and exports tend to be cheap. Producers and traders take it in ever larger quantities and sell it on the european market. They have to comply with european law. "The company is primarily responsible for the safety of a food product," says florian kuhl, florian kuhlmey of the federal office for consumer protection and food safety explains. Food inspection authority – china often attracts negative attention. In the european rapid alert system RASFF on foodstuffs that pose a health risk, there have recently been reports of nicotine in dried chinese goji berries, salmonella and pesticides in chinese bell pepper powder and tea, for example.
Growth at the expense of the environment
Exhaust fumes, heavy metals and contaminated groundwater: a side effect of rapid economic growth in china is dramatic environmental pollution. The german embassy in beijing criticizes the excessive use of dung and pesticides. Mario jonke argues that french farmers have to compete with such production conditions. "We should employ useless people, respect social standards, pay minimum wage." It comes at a price.
But on the world market they buy cheaply. So it is very likely that we will all eat something chinese today.
Read here what the expert from the consumer advice center says about the change in the law.