China's food safety system is characterized by widespread under-enforcement of regulations punctuated by high-profile food safety scandals. While there has been a wave of public and scholarly interest, official data on food safety are scarce, and some fundamental questions remain unanswered. We evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of media-based event data as a source for scholars and policy makers interested in understanding more about China's food safety crisis. While some biases are likely present, we find that the data produce a reasonable set of results: food safety problems are most acute in poor provinces, and where government expenditures are low. Reported food safety incidents also increase with the rate of urbanization, which may reflect the increased complexity of urban food systems or an urban bias in Chinese media. Importantly, our results indicate that media data can be a valid source for scholars interested in studying food safety or other controversial topics in China.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/william_mcguire/9/