Plastic? Oh no! Banned.

This week is Tangjiuhui (Sweets and Alcoholic Commodities Fair), the biggest annual event for the Chinese alcohol industry. It’s where the Who’s Who rub elbows with the Who the Hell? and cause general mayhem around Chengdu. It’s only day two, but I feel like I’ve been trading business cards for baijiu shots for an eternity. Thankfully I’m running out of business cards.

In honor of Tangjiuhui, I’d like to share a somewhat good piece of news for the Chinese alcohol industry. Well, it’s not really good news, but it’s at least something to temper harsh judgment and give us hope for the future.

Back in January, a scandal erupted when plasticizer was found in several well-known baijius. Consumers raised a stink, stock prices tumbled and the baijiu industry went on the defensive. The producers claimed that they were not adding toxins to their product, but that the baijiu had been eroding the plastic tubes used in production.

At the time I was skeptical of these claims due to conflicting reports in Chinese media. “This account might make sense,” I wrote, “if plasticizer contamination was widespread throughout China’s beverages, but it seems limited to baijiu.”

Well, it turns out that plasticizer isn’t limited to baijiu after all.

After China implemented a new regulation requiring third-party testing of all beverages sold in China, Shenzhen Customs turned away three French cognac producers – Remy Martin, Camus and Frapin – for submitting products with illegal levels of plasticizer found in their products. The report fails to mention what the producers will do with the contaminated brandy.

So I must admit that I may have gotten swept up in the initial scandal and been too quick to claim gross malfeasance on the offending Chinese distilleries. It appears that alcohol, any alcohol, can erode plastic and that the chemicals found their way into baijiu unbeknownst to the distillers.

The upshot is that we’ve probably all ingested more plasticizer than we would care to know about, but at least the problem has been identified and will, one assumes, soon be corrected.

And so now we can get back to drinking our baijiu in peace. But as for the Shanghai drinking water…

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