Image: Bill Lehane via flickr
Walmart stores in southwest China's Chongqing have been forced to close following allegations that they have been labeling non-organic pork as organic and selling it at a higher price. There's speculation that the incident is a result of increased interest in organic pork in China after the tainted pork scandal earlier this year that caused hundreds of people to fall ill.
If only it were that simple. According to Xinhua, the false labeling has been going on for two years and has involved 63,547 kilograms (more than half a million dollars' worth) of pork.BBC says there were also reports of a similar incident in 2009—when people became sick after eating pork believed to be tainted with the same illegal additive, clenbuterol.
Authorities warned Walmart last month that they planned to fine the company for deceptive labeling, but that resulted in no action. Walmart has not denied the accusations, which some say threaten Walmart's success in China, a key market for the company's growth.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Chongqing officials ordered 10 Walmart stores to close, as well as two Walmart-owned Trust Mart stores.
Although food scandals involving mislabeling are not new, The Financial Times reports a Shanghai analyst saying this is the first time a non-organic product has been labeled as organic.
Demand for pork has been exploding in China [PDF]—consumption has doubled over the last 10 years. And China is not alone, as demand for animal products increases in more and more countries that are adopting factory farm-style practices.
The latest incident with Walmart is indicative of practices in which the company is willing to engage in order to boost profit.
But it's also a sign of how China's increasing demand for pork is enabled in part by an unsustainable industry that tries to make people believe that an endless supply of pork and other animal products is something the world can, and should, have.