False Cardboard-Dumpling Report Results in Arrest

In China, a broadcast report about dumplings with cardboard filling raised fears of a new food safety scandal. But the report turned out to be fake, and the reporter has been arrested.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In China, reports of toxic pork and pesticide-laden vegetables are just some of the scary news items that have put consumers on edge. Then last week, Chinese state-run television reported that one purveyor was adulterating a favorite Chinese breakfast food: steamed dumplings.

But as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing, it turns out that the report itself was tainted.

ANTHONY KUHN: That's the thing about dumplings. It might be tasty, but sometimes, the stuffing's a bit of a surprise.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking in foreign language)

KUHN: That's just what viewers got last week from a Beijing television expose. The report was filmed with a hidden camera. It shows a grungy farmyard on Beijing's outskirts where unidentified people soak cardboard in chemicals then chop it into a fine puree.

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking in foreign language)

KUHN: What's the proportion, asks the man making the dumpling filling. Sixty-forty, says another guy, apparently the dumpling vendor. You mean 60 percent cardboard? Right, comes the reply. And the other 40 percent? Fatty pork and stuff, says the vendor. A few minutes later, a steamer full of piping hot dumplings comes off the stove. The report was later broadcast nationwide and foreign media pounced on it.

(Soundbite of news report)

Unidentified Woman: (Japanese spoken)

KUHN: Japan's Fuji TV did its own investigation into the sinister dim sum. The second surprise came this week. The original story it turns out was a hoax.

(Soundbite of Beijing Television)

Unidentified Man: (Chinese spoken)

KUHN: Beijing Television said that police had scoured eateries across the capital in search of the doctored dumplings. They eventually found that the video footage had been staged and they arrested a TV freelancer identified only as Mr. Zhi(ph). Beijing Television apologized and pledged to clean up its act.

Ms. LI LOOLAN(ph): (Chinese spoken)

KUHN: To gauge the response of a legitimate chef, we visited the local dumpling joint down the street from NPR's Beijing bureau. We asked the boss, Li Loolan, about her products.

Ms. LI: (Through translator) Our dumplings are all good. My husband eats them twice a day. People from all around here come to buy them.

KUHN: Mrs. Li said she hadn't seen the report or its retraction.

Ms. LI: (Through translator) I can't imagine people making cardboard-filled dumplings. How can anybody be that wicked? I can't tell what's real and what's fake these days. All I can do is guarantee that my own dumplings are safe to eat.

KUHN: The whole story raises unsettling questions about what people are to believe regarding food safety in China. For instance, those official statistics saying that 99 percent of China's food exports meet relevant quality standards. Any filler in those? Some observers even speculate that perhaps media censors concerned about China's image issued a bogus retraction of a real story about bogus dumplings.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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