The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App

A Lack Of Faith

Americans are increasingly nervous about food imported from China. What most of us don't know is that the Chinese are even more scared of their food. A recent survey showed almost 93% worry that food in China is unsafe.

Author Zhou Qing has investigated China's food problems. "It's not just about food," says Dr. Qing. "Chinese people are worried about everything they buy."

Most Chinese blame their government for lax enforcement. But China expert Ken Lieberthal says Beijing officials may be well intentioned, but can face problems giving orders or getting information from far-flung provinces.

"We can go to the Chinese in Beijing and say we think you have a problem with this particular product and it may take them weeks or months to verify for themselves if there really is a problem... and to get by all the local obstructionism that their inspectors from Beijing run into," says Lieberthal.

Some of the agencies out in the provinces, say critics, actually want there to be problems; it means getting more funding from Beijing for new cars and other perks.

The fear about products is based on scandals involving Chinese products. The worst was in 2004 when more than a dozen babies in one village died of malnutrition because of tainted baby milk powder. The babies who lived will be scarred for life. "There is no way for {this boy} to recover," says one mother.

America got another dose of bad news about China imports with the second recall of Mattel toys made in China. But the bad press China is getting in America could turn things around here. "The Chinese government really cares about its international image, its face," says Dr. Qing.

That concern, says Dr. Qing, means China's government may do a better job checking exports before they leave the country, which means better quality for Americans.

But it does little for the average Chinese, who wonder with every bite what chance they are taking of getting bad food and badly ill from it.
By Barry Petersen