Since January tonnes of cowpeas from the city of Sanya on the southern island of Hainan, in particular the ‘yard-long’ bean variety, have been found to contain traces of the highly toxic pesticide isocarbophos.
Beans from Sanya tainted with the chemical, which has been banned since 2004, have turned up in markets in Hubei, Guangdong, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces.
Last Monday the issue broke onto Chinese media, with authorities in the central city of Wuhan publically announcing they had destroyed 3.5 tonnes of the tainted beans.
China’s central government followed the announcement with its own, warning of the problem.
Prices for Hainan beans have since fallen 90 per cent, local sources tell Fruitnet.com, and provincial authorities have decreed all vegetables leaving the island must be certified.
The pesticide, while banned, is reportedly still available in Hainan, and is used by farmers because it is less than half the price of authorised pesticides.
While tonnes of the tainted beans have been uncovered across China, the biggest outcry so far has not been that the issue was not announced publically earlier, but that it was announced publically at all.
The Wuhan announcement broke an “unspoken rule” dictating officials tell each other about problems in private, rather than informing the public, according to Zhou Qingchong, deputy director of the agriculture bureau law enforcement team in Sanya.
Mr Zhou told China National Radio this week the announcement was inconsiderate, reported AP.
“`It` did not save face for Sanya, nor did it save face for the Ministry of Agriculture,” he said. “Wuhan is really not enough of a friend.”
Mr Zhou said Wuhan officials could have informed his department privately, and Sanya would have taken care of the problem.
The Chinese government culture of public silence on issues like this has been partly blamed for past food safety problems in China, such as the 2008 melamine-tainted milk scandal.