Expatriates in China face food scarcity problems

Friday, May 17, 2013

Expatriates in China face food scarcity problems

For international professionals moving to China, finding suitable housing is often very easy. Serviced apartments and furnished extended stay units are plentiful in cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong, and many expatriates choose this type of accommodation shortly after arriving. However, something that may not be as easily found in China is food - specifically, milk. According to The Australian, expatriates living and working in China could soon face a food scarcity crisis due to a rapidly expanding population and increasing demand for certain foods.

Changing tastes
China's population is diversifying rapidly. Not only has the influx of expatriates from countries like France placed greater demands on national food supplies, the changing tastes of Chinese consumers has resulted in shortages of milk and other foodstuffs. In response to the shifting dietary habits of Chinese residents, much of the nation's milk is being imported from overseas, and if current demand continues to increase, the need to implement a longer-term solution will intensify.

In addition to changing attitudes toward food, several high-profile crises, such as the melamine milk scandal that claimed the lives of six newborns and hospitalized more than 54,000 infants, have resulted in a boom in the food import market.

"Our imported sales increased more than 40 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared with last year," Wang Beiping, marketing manager of an organic food retailer based in Beijing, told the news source. "We think that increase is easily going to exceed 50 percent by the end of the year."

Hitting a nerve
China's milk crisis is not just a point of concern among citizens and expatriates. Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has criticized the Chinese government's response to the escalating food crisis, taking aim at the melamine milk scandal in particular with his latest work.

The Independent reports that Weiwei's newest installation is a physical representation of China made from 1,800 empty cans of baby formula. The piece aims to highlight the lax regulatory processes in China that led to the incident.

"A country like this can put a satellite into space but it can't put a safe bottle teat into a child's mouth," said Weiwei, as quoted by the news source. "This is a most fundamental assurance of food, but people actually have to go to another region to obtain this kind of thing. I think it's a totally absurd phenomenon."

Whether or not the Chinese government will tighten food regulatory processes remains to be seen. There can be little doubt, however, that expatriates heading to China may soon experience new challenges when shopping at their local supermarket.