- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2007

BEIJING A Chinese freelance television reporter was arrested for faking a hidden-camera report about the use of chemical-soaked cardboard to fill meat buns that had heightened outrage and concern.

The arrest came as a Chinese candy maker denied Philippine claims that one of its products was tainted with formaldehyde, and Beijing sought to contain a wave of accusations that has hammered its reputation as a food and drug exporter.

Beijing Television apologized to the public during an evening news broadcast yesterday and said the creator of the apparently fake news report, identified only by his surname, Zi, had been detained by police, but it did not say when. A copy of the broadcast was obtained by AP Television News.

“He used deceptive means to get the footage on the air,” said news anchor Wang Ye, without giving specifics. “The Beijing Public Security Bureau has taken the criminal suspect, Zi, into custody, and he will be severely dealt with according to law.”

Mr. Zi’s footage appeared to show a makeshift kitchen where people made fluffy buns stuffed with 60 percent cardboard that had been softened in a bath of caustic soda and 40 percent fatty pork.

Beijing Television explained an investigation revealed in mid-June that Mr. Zi brought meat, flour, cardboard and other ingredients to a downtown Beijing neighborhood and had four migrant workers make the buns for him while he filmed the process. It said Mr. Zi “gave them the idea” of mincing softened cardboard and adding it to the buns.

The newscaster said the station was “profoundly sorry” for the fake report and its “vile impact on society.” The station vowed to prevent inaccurate news coverage in the future.

The news report with a spate of real food scares involving toxic fish, tainted pork and eggs yolks colored with a cancer-causing dye have harmed China’s reputation as an exporter and alarmed people at home.

Meanwhile, Shanghai-based Guan Sheng Yuan Co. said it sent samples of its White Rabbit milk candy to a lab for testing after it was listed among Chinese products banned by the Philippine Bureau of Food and Drugs because of its formaldehyde tainting.

“Guan Sheng Yuan Co. makes this pledge to society: Absolutely at no point during the manufacturing of White Rabbit milk candy are preservatives added,” the company said in a statement posted on its Web site late yesterday.

Rivals have made numerous counterfeit versions of the popular candy, the company said, calling the Philippine food and drug bureau “irresponsible” for not checking the candy’s authenticity and threatening to sue. Formaldehyde is used in resin production and is well known as a preservative and embalming fluid.

Officials at the Philippine Bureau of Food and Drugs did not immediately respond today to a request for comment.

The speed and severity of Guan Sheng Yuan’s response underscored concerns that the deteriorating reputation of Chinese food exports could spread to some of the country’s best known brands.

In an apparent attempt to reassure key trading partners, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao promised the speaker of Japan’s lower house of parliament that China would “make an effort to improve the quality of exports.”

Japan is one of a growing list of countries banning or rejecting Chinese exports after toxins and chemicals that do not meet their standards were found in products such as juice and toothpaste.

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