Chinese Cabbages Dipped in Chemicals to ‘Guarantee freshness’

May 7, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Cabbages in China market
Chinese media recently reported the widespread use of formaldehyde to preserve the freshness of cabbages in one part of China. The picture shows a vegetable market in China. (The Epoch Times Photo Archive)

Chemicals linked to cancer in humans are being used as preservatives for vegetables in one part of China, industry professionals say. 

Many are unaware that formaldehyde (aka formalin) is harmful to health, and it is understood that the practice is widespread. The chemical has many industrial uses, including in furniture, embalming, and as a disinfectant. 

“Spraying produce with formaldehyde is common nowadays,” said Mr. Ma, a cabbage wholesaler in Dongxia Township, China, in a phone interview with The Epoch Times. 

“As soon as a head of cabbage is cut from the ground, it is dipped in a formaldehyde solution before being shipped. It guarantees freshness for about a week.”

Dongxia Township in Qingzhou, Shandong Province is a major producer of Chinese cabbage, an area where almost every household grows cabbage. 

During April and May, large amounts of spring cabbage are taken to market, sold and shipped to the northeastern provinces as well as the surrounding provinces and cities.

Ma said that it’s not easy to buy formaldehyde solution, nor would he give the percentage for mixing the solution. “If a customer places a large order, we can also give him a small amount of formaldehyde.”

Ma added that he is very certain that formaldehyde is nontoxic and harmless, and can be used without worry.

However, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In seperate reports, Chinese media reported that everywhere in Dongxia Township, workers could be seen spraying cabbage with bottles of formaldehyde solution before loading it onto a truck, in order to preserve its freshness during shipment. It was also reported that yams, mushrooms and other vegetables are also sprayed or soaked in formaldehyde solutions.

A consumer in Jinan City in Shandong Province bought cabbage from three random locations and had them tested. Formaldehyde was found in two of the samples. 

Media exposure of the wide-spread use of formaldehyde solution caused a drop in cabbage sales in Qingzhou City, and now people dare not openly use it, according to Dongxia Township resident Lu Yifan (alias). He now uses large quantities of frozen bottled water to preserve the freshness. “But it’s hard to say if smaller wholesalers and vendors will stop using formaldehyde,” he told The Epoch Times.

An official from the Nanjing Bureau of Agricultural Products Safety and Quality told Nanjing-based Modern Express newspaper they had never heard of the use of formaldehyde to preserve vegetables, and currently they only conduct pesticide residue testing of vegetables, and formaldehyde is not part of the test.

The Modern Express article also quoted some Chinese “experts” saying that consumers have nothing to worry about, since formaldehyde is very soluble and highly volatile, therefore can easily be washed off with water. 

A netizen calling himself “Dear-Internet-Friend” said, given that formaldehyde, a highly toxic substance, is used on Chinese cabbage to preserve freshness, it’s no wonder Korean authorities banned Chinese cabbage from entering the country even during the kimchi crisis.

Read the original Chinese article

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