The Changzhutan, a Chinese newpaper, just revealed one more food scandal. Most details have been translated by The Nanfang Insider into English.
1. The facts
Most street vendors sell beef and lamb meat-on-a-stick at the same price. It’s actually all beef meat. How is the beef taste masked? “By marinating and seasoning it with lamb flavoring agents”. Why? Because beef meat is much cheaper than lamb/sheep meat.
It will not come as a surprise to those who follow daily news here. For example, I read several stories about pork meat being “transformed” into beef meat on an industrial scale. But this story is interesting because several street vendors were interviewed. And they used excuses that are familiar to many importers…
2. The vendors’ justifications
They offered three types of justifications:
The “I don’t know the details so I am not guilty” defence:
The wholesaler told me this is lamb meat. If you were to ask me if this is really lamb meat, I couldn’t tell you.
The “only idiots really believe what we say” defence:
Calculate how much beef costs versus how much lamb costs.
The “everybody is dirty anyway” defence:
Everything has been altered; if it hasn’t been altered and doesn’t have the taste, who will want to eat it?
3. Lessons for foreign buyers
I think a few lessons from this example carry over to the international trade world.
Street vendors don’t risk much. They can disappear overnight. Same as most sourcing agents and many small trading companies.
There are many fly-by-night companies in China. Many of them are totally ruthless. The reason is, they can afford to. They have very little to lose. That’s why there are many scammers out there (yes, even among the Alibaba “Gold Suppliers”).
If a price is too good to be true, or if you don’t understand the economics of a deal, something bad is probably hidden in a closet.
As a buyer, try to evaluate the average market price for the product you are looking for. Any offer below the average price is suspect. Any offer 30% below the average is very, very suspect.
If the sub-supplier is at fault, your supplier will not accept any responsibility.
Most exporters do the assembly/finishing operations only. They purchase the components from sub-suppliers. And, in 98% of cases, they use whatever components they receive, for three reasons. First, their quality system is full of holes. Second, they usually don’t have time to wait for a new batch of components. Third, rejecting substandard components will cause the sub-supplier to “lose face”, so this is usually a big no-no.
In China, doing something shady is not a problem; only getting caught is a problem.
I have nothing against Chinese people in general, but one has to admit they live and work in a system that tends to encourage unethical behaviors. Therefore it is wise to be suspicious until proven wrong, rather than trusting people until proven wrong.
What do you think? Are there other lessons to learn from this food scandal?
Interesting commentary, Renaud. The 3 justifications summarize the general attitude well. Unfortunately it is not just exporters who use them. I often read stories of high-profile Western brands offering similar justifications.
A few years ago Lululemon was selling garments which they claimed were made from seaweed-derived fabric. When independent analysis found no evidence of seaweed in the fabric, they said they were just going by what their fabric supplier had told them.
You’ll laugh when you hear what they said when asked why they didn’t do testing on the fabric to verify the fabric supplier’s claims. They said they could not afford to do the testing. What??!!
So even billion-dollar brands can play the China street meat game and get away with it, too.
Very good point! Thanks for sharing this story, Callum.