China is one of the biggest countries in the world, and its vast population has become an increasing economic problem. Apparently, their natural resources are slowly running out, and cannot fully sustain the entire nation. This is the reason why counterfeits are very rampant in the country. Although there have been numerous reports of product counterfeits coming from China, we did not expect that even food items can have fake versions in this country! It is alarming because such practices can harm people’s health and even cause death among economic partners of China, including Albania.

Rice has been part of every Asian meal. In East and Southeast Asia, rice is included in their daily consumption and is usually cooked plain. A variety of rice has also been known in Eurasian continent like Western Asia and Europe which is mostly cooked with flavoring. Indeed, rice has been a staple food for several countries around the world.

Meanwhile, the issue spreading online about the fake rice from China is quite alarming. Rumor has it that this plastic-tainted rice is now said to be exported to other Asian countries like India, Indonesia, Vietnam and recently, Singapore. Although it is not yet proven true, further investigations are being done to ensure the consumers safety. It is believed that the fake rice contains synthetic resin which can be deadly. Resin is a sticky organic substance from some plants and trees which includes pine and fir. This particular substance is reportedly common in Chinese markets especially in Taiyuan Province where the said fake rice has originated from. Malaysian authorities said that it is quite hard to tell the difference between a fake and natural rice when mixed. Once consumed though, it can cause people to get sick or even more serious repercussions may occur. The fake rice grains remain hard after being boiled, and the soup made by it forms a very unappetizing plastic sheath. Eating three bowls of this fake rice is equal to one plastic bag being consumed.

Few days ago the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its annual report on emerging risks and identified plastic rice as one of them. In 2011 reports began circulating in media across South East (SE) Asia that artificial (plastic) rice was being produced in China, which was subsequently being sold in towns such as Taiyuan in Shaanxi province. The issue was raised in 2013 by European Parliament seeking clarification on whether the Commission was aware of the practice, and if so, what safeguards were in place to prohibit artificial rice from entering into the EU. A briefing note was prepared by the UK for discussion by EREN, Emerging Risks Exchange Network. The European Commission response of 20 September 2013 to the Parliamentary question states that rice products originating in China are subject to Commission Implementing Decision 2011/884/EU, recently amended to Commission Implementing Decision 2013/287/EU, which stipulates consignments of rice originating from China can be released for free circulation only if accompanied by analytical report demonstrating it is GM free and a health certificate issued by the Chinese competent authority (AQSIC) certifying the rice has been produced, sorted, handled, processed, packaged, and transported in line with good hygiene practice.

It would appear that appropriate tools are in place which reduces the risk of affected products entering the EU, nevertheless, the UK would like to encourage a discussion on the subject, firstly to highlight the practice, but also to consider whether a risk of entry into the EU still remains via third country involvement. The INFOSAN Secretariat received several inquiries from INFOSAN members in Asia as concerns over fake rice were perpetuated in the media. The Secretariat reached out to INFOSAN members in China to inquire about this event and to verify or dispel the rumours. Unfortunately no further information was supplied. One INFOSAN member from another Asian country reported a suspected case of illness following the consumption of the implicated rice, but this could not be confirmed upon further investigation and no fake rice was found.

Albania’s Institute of Statistics reports that trade exchanges with China has witnessed a significant increase. China is in fact Albania’s second biggest trade partner. In the first quarter 2016, exports to China amounted to 909 million Lek whereas imports amounted to 12,152 million Lek. The trade with China is mostly oriented to textile, equipments, spare parts etc, but the risk of plastic rice arriving to Albanian market is greater, particularly when legal protection against such phenomenon has many shortcomings.