China’s market regulator has highlighted 11 cases of supermarkets and online platforms selling food products that did not meet national food safety standards, some of which are operated by the country's largest technology giants like Alibaba and JD.com.
In a formal notice issued Tuesday, China's State Administration for Market Regulation singled out companies including two outlets from Tencent-backed Yonghui Superstore, and a Hema supermarket outlet in Guangzhou, operated by Alibaba.
Certain batches of eggs sold in a Beijing Yonghui Superstore exceeded safe levels of enrofloxacin, a type of antibiotic commonly used to treat animals. Another Yonghui store in Hebei, as well as the Hema supermarket in Guangzhou, sold squid that also exceeded safety levels for an antibiotic.
Other merchants selling products that did not meet the food standards include a Carrefour store in Beijing with yogurt waffles containing excess levels of sodium, as well as an online merchant selling crunchy rice snacks on JD.com's e-commerce platform with too much peroxide. An online store on Taobao was also singled out for selling seaweed that exceeded acceptable lead levels.
Neither Alibaba, Yonghui Superstore or JD.com responded to requests for comment.
China has struggled with food safety issues over the years. The government stepped up oversight following a widespread incident in 2008 involving Chinese milk and infant formula being tainted with melamine. Stricter food safety requirements were imposed across the supply chain, from producers to retailers, and outdated national food safety laws were updated in 2015.
The regulator’s latest notice comes even as Alibaba and JD.com have unveiled initiatives to better track food safety. Both companies operate their own chain of supermarkets, Hema and 7-Fresh respectively, with each emphasising product safety and quality of their produce as a selling point to consumers.
In both Hema and 7-Fresh stores consumers can scan QR codes on the products to see their origin. Companies like Alibaba and JD.com have also launched their own blockchain initiatives to better monitor food safety.
Last month, a Hema Supermarket employee was caught in the act of changing the expiration date labels on a package of carrots in one of its outlets, with the new label showing a later date.
The scandal prompted outrage from consumers. Hema chief executive Hou Yi apologised in a statement and pledged to step up supervision in the stores, including recruiting consumers as inspectors and issuing severe punishments to any staff violating food safety regulations.
Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.
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