A new food scare hits China, another scandal rocks the market. Few weeks ago a crime of tainted wine ignited a strong police reaction: six managers were arrested, sixteen corporate banking accounts were frozen, nearly 30 vineries were shut down. The country was just restoring its confidence, after the tainted milk scandal in 2008. The poisonous industrial melamine, added to the milk to increase its protein value, killed six babies and left 300.000 sick.
Nowadays the accusations are very serious: use of chemical alterations and false labeling (including the well known Great Wall brand). The adulteration was firstly discovered in Hebei, home of ⅓of the national grape wine production. The Province is nicknamed “the Bordeaux of China”. Police operations went on in Anhui, where some bottles contained only 20% of fermented grape juice. The remaining component was a mixture of sugar, water, flavouring, colouring chemical agents. The appealing selling price of 10 yuan per bottle was thus a trap for the consumers. The danger was amplified by the huge offer; one single brand sold for than 2.4 million bottles every year. These products were confiscated and pulled off supermarket shelves, but the wine scare spread. Its market profitability is at stake, exactly when its maturity was reached.
New habits, more curiosity, bigger spending capacity, all drove the Chinese to acquire a different taste for wine. Yearly double-digit growth catapulted China to become the 8^ biggest market in the world. In addition, demand for high quality wines increased even more and import from France and other reputed countries grew accordingly. The most fashionable gift last Spring Festival was a bottle of “Chateaux Lafitte” (whose value is increasing of 25% p.a. at the Hong Kong Wine stock market). Beijing knows very well the situation is a serious one. The crime is not only a violation of the law or a typical counterfeiting case.
Food is one of the bastions of Chinese culture. Wine’s adulteration is a sinister blow to a flourishing market, but bring consequences that go beyond its economic terms. It affects the consumers’ trust, on the market as well on the Government. To protect its fellow citizens is its primary duty. Crime’s repression has been strong and immediate, but sometimes might be inconsequential. It was only 4 years ago that the Head of the State Food and Drug Administration was sentenced to death and executed after receiving bribes for irregular license to launch food products in the market.