One might not think of organic food as being a priority in China, with its vast population to feed and concerns over food inflation. However, like any market there are niches to fill, and Wal-Mart was trying to accomplish that goal.
Things didn’t go as planned for the world’s biggest retailer, as Wal-Mart has had to “temporarily close some stores” in the city of Chongqing. The action follows a police investigation into an issue of pork raised under typical commercial processes as "organic."
Wal-Mart also will have to pay a fine of 2.7 million yuan ($423,000 U.S.). It’s being called the “green pork” incident, and company officials report that some of its employees have been detained by Chongqing police.
Exactly how many stores Wal-Mart has closed remains speculative; some reports cite seven closings. State media has reported that all 12 Wal-Mart stores in the area were temporarily closed. Chongqing is in western China and records a population of 32 million people.
The stores will reportedly be closed for 15 days, beginning Oct. 9.
Food-related issues in China are not new. Mislabeling, repackaging expired food, counterfeit and substandard food and ingredients have all been a problem. The government had stepped up food-safety rules and priorities a few years ago following some issues with products China had exported to other countries. The effectiveness has been spotty at best.
The Wal-Mart stores were accused of selling more than 63,547 kilograms (14.4 tons) of mislabeled pork over the past two years.
The official Xinhua News Agency cited Huang Bo, director of the Chongqing Administration of Industry and Commerce, as saying the fine equaled 10 times the value of the falsely labeled pork sold. The agency’s report said Wal-Mart had been repeatedly punished for violating food standards and other rules since it began operating in Chongqing in 2006.
"Wal-Mart is committed to protecting the rights of consumers and will spare no efforts in this regard," according to a company statement.
Wal-Mart entered China in 1996. According to a March 30 report, Wal-Mart had $7.5 billion annual revenue in China, where it has 329 stores and 107,000 employees.