According to Pew Research’s new report, Environmental Concerns on the Rise in China, food safety represents the most quickly growing concern of Chinese citizens. Safety of Food was described as a “very big problem” by only 12 percent of respondents in 2008, compared to 41 percent in 2012 and 38 percent in 2013, a 26 percent increase. Other highly ranked concerns including air pollution and corrupt officials also increased, but by only 16 and 14 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, concern over the rising price of goods, including food, was the only issue identified less frequently as a “very big problem” in 2013 than it was in 2008.

Concerns over food safety seem at least partially split based on several factors, including age, urban-rural residency and income level. Among all urban residents, 43 percent say food safety is a “very big problem,” compared to 32 percent in rural areas. Among those ages 50 and over, 36 percent agree, compared to 41 percent for those ages 18-29. Only 32 percent of low-income workers identify food safety as a big problem, compared to 41 and 42 percent for middle- and high-income individuals, respectively.

Food safety scandals have plagued China in recent years, including melamine contamination of milk and infant formula in 2008, and reports of rat, fox and other small mammals being served as lamb. In May 2013, officials in the southern province of Guangdong discovered unsafe levels of cadmium in 44 percent of rice products tested there.

As the disposable income of Chinese citizens grows, many can afford to be more selective when it comes to the foods they consume. With concerns over food safety even greater among the young and wealthy, food processors will have to seek out strategies to ensure and communicate the safety of their products.

To view the report, click here(.pdf).

For more Food Engineering coverage of the Chinese market,

- China's consumer inflation rises with higher food prices

- Nearly 20 percent of Chinese grain wasted from farm to fork

- Exports to China must comply with new restrictions

- US wins trade enforcement case against China over broiler chickens