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UPDATED: December 19, 2012 NO. 23 JUNE 7, 2012
Food Safety Warrior
A graduate student becomes the latest online phenomenon with his Internet database of problematic food
By Li Li

"All of us will eventually be killed by these harmful foods unless everyone steps forward and speaks out," Wu said.

Independent operation

Wu pays the website's 600-yuan ($94.50) an nual server usage bill out of his own pocket. As the website became more popular, Wu said that he was contacted by investors and companies seeking partnerships. However, he has declined all of their proposals because he believes the website must remain noncommercial.

Wu, who is about to graduate from Fudan University in June, doesn't want a career related to food safety and has rejected a job offer from a Shenzhen-based food testing company. Instead, he plans to study for a doctor's degree in historical geography.

Without any training in food safety, Wu said that his goal in establishing the website is simple enough: He hopes to expose and shame problematic food manufacturers and arouse public attention. "Many people are like frogs in warm water," he said. "They don't care about repeated food safety scandals, even if they are eating tainted food."

According to Wu, he has been receiving anonymous e-mails inquiring about the price of deleting one unfavorable report link. At a recent meeting with five volunteers, Wu deprived himself of the power to delete an entry.

"The power to verify new entries should never be entrusted with one person as absolute power corrupts absolutely," Wu told the Beijing Times. He said a sound monitoring system should be established.

Wu has remained cautious about the site's development. One of his friends once advised him to add a new function that would allow users to search for food safety scandals by company or brand name. Wu eventually rejected the idea on the ground that it might be unfair to these companies without asking them for their side of story.

The website functions as an informationsharing platform, so it can be involved in reputation infringement cases under certain conditions, said Si Weijiang, a Shanghaibased lawyer. And although the website only re-posts news reports from other media, Si warned that enterprises have the right to sue it if the reports are groundless.

However, Wu refuses to pull negative reports on companies off his website even after the problematic practice is abandoned, saying that consumers should be alerted and companies should pay a price for their wrongdoing. Wu said that when the food safety claims in some news reports proved inaccurate or exaggerated later, his team would delete the reports. Wu's team is considering opening a false alarm section for reports denying earlier false reports.

Government support

In 2011, Wu was invited to a seminar on food safety held by the Chinese Academy of Governance as a representative of consumers. More than 30 heads of quality supervision of local governments participated in the seminar.

Wu referred to this opportunity to talk with quality supervision officials a "positive interaction." "Food safety problems cannot be solved by one person or one policy. My invitation at least proves that officials are willing to listen to the opinions of ordinary consumers," Wu said.

On May 15, nine officials from the Shanghai Food Safety Office met with Wu and applauded his spirit of social service and encouraged him to carry on the good work. At the two-hour meeting, Wu showed the officials selected comments on his website from netizens.

Yan Zuqiang, director of the office, assured Wu that his agency is willing to provide any necessary support and professional assistance for the website when necessary.

The officials also asked Wu to help promote the office's newly opened 12331 hotline dedicated to hearing all inquiries and complaints about food safety. The reward for a whistleblower is up to 200,000 yuan ($31,503). During the first month of the hotline's operation in April, it received a total of 4,160 calls, according to the Shanghai Food Safety Office.

When asked to give an overall evaluation of China's food safety situation by China Youth Daily, Wu is prudently optimistic. "I think it's both the worst time and the best time. It's the worst time because food safety problems happen almost everywhere in the country to all kinds of food. It's the best time because these problems have been reported by the media. Letting people know what's happening is the first step toward solving the problem."

Email us at: lili@bjreview.com

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