CABI Blog

Two brief reports in the most recent edition of Food
Manufacture
magazine reflect the fascination that the western
industrialised world has in the opportunities and dangers of doing business in
China.

On the one hand, a delegation of food manufacturers and academics brought
back information on some 8000 ingredients used in traditional Chinese medicine
from their mission last November. The group visited Beijing, Chengdu and
Shanghai as part of the Department of Trade and Industry’s Food Processing
Knowledge Transfer Network (FPKTN) initiative. They have just made their
findings public in a report entitled ‘Functionality
of health foods and traditional medicines in Chinese culture
‘. While the
mission seems almost Victorian in its objectives of searching and collecting
ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine with potential as functional food
additives, an objective that could surely have been achieved in part in the UK,
the team also studied the technologies applied in Chinese processing plants to
protect the active ingredients and reported back on the legislative and state
control measures in place to protect the consumer.

The functional foods market in China is huge, predicted to reach $12 billion
by 2010. The team reported on a wide range of functional foods, ranging from raw
unprocessed ingredients to chewing gum. The probiotic yoghurt market is vast,
the team reported. Although no functional claims may be made on the packaging as
yet, the level of inclusion of the functional ingredient may be publicised.
Along with the educational and research outreach in this area of foods, a strong
tradition and culture of using natural remedies help to give the market strength
and stability.

However, in her companion article, Food Manufacture‘s Elaine Watson
also reports "Be
very afraid" warns China mission
. This is an issue that not only
affects the food industry, but many industries worldwide. China is not only a
vast market for many products, the perception of this ballooning economy as a
producer of high volume, low-tech goods is completely outdated. The functional
foods industry is a classic example of this development. Research and
Development activities are attracting some $100 billion a year and more than 60
universities specialise in food science and nutrition.

So while the UK food industry might benefit from knowledge about China’s
functional food ingredients, the UK market may have been flooded by Chinese
products long before it has had the chance to put any of this knowledge into
practice.

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