In the past decade, the black market supplying counterfeit alcohol have exploded in China. This is vis-à-vis the expansion of the bar industry in the country. It is estimated that around 30% of all alcohol in China is fake. When consumed, fake alcohol could lead to serious acute illness and even death. The chemicals commonly found in Chinese fake alcohol – ethylene glycol, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol – are all harmful to one’s health.
China’s fight against unlicensed distilleries that make fake booze has been going on for many years. The crackdown in 2012 and 2013 yielded generally favorable results, with police reporting many successful raids and tens of thousands of confiscated bottles. However, while reports on counterfeit alcohol have dwindled in recent years, many in the alcohol industry are still convinced that it still remains a huge problem.
China’s Crack Down on Counterfeit Alcohol
For years, the Chinese government has been cracking down on makers and suppliers of fake alcohol in the country. In 2012, barely a month after the crackdown, Beijing police confiscated fake booze worth US$861,000. Meanwhile, US$33,800 worth of counterfeit alcohol had been sold in Shanghai before the perpetrators were caught.
Alcohol counterfeiting is not limited to bigger cities nor domestic brands. Authorities once discovered 10,000 bottles of fake Château Lafite Rothschild, valued at around US$16 million, in Zhejiang Province. In Guangdong province, police busted a gang that had been refilling top-brand whisky bottles with locally made liquor. In 2017, a small factory in China was revealed to be creating counterfeit cans of Budweiser beer.
Determining which one is fake and which is not has also become even more difficult as counterfeiters become very good in forging. Alcohol bottles brought into China carry import stamps that serve to protect legitimate importers’ goods. Criminals have learned not only to copy the bottle design, but the stamps and certifications as well.
Fake Booze: A Health Hazard
Counterfeit alcohol is usually made from poor quality ingredients or toxic industrial chemicals that could lead to serious acute illness, as well as medium- and longer-term health problems. They can cause nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, drowsiness and dizziness. They can also lead to kidney or liver problems.
Ethylene glycol, an antifreeze, attacks the kidneys and heart and is potentially fatal. Meanwhile, methanol attacks the retinal nerve and can result in permanent blindness. As for isopropyl alcohol, more commonly known as rubbing alcohol, just a cup may cause causes heavy intoxication that leads to coma.
Counterfeit alcohol is still a significant issue in China, despite the sustained efforts of the government to crack down on criminals and their illegal activities. It helps that more Chinese are becoming more educated that it is becoming harder to fool them with fake brands. To protect both legitimate businesses and consumers, frequent enforcements and monitoring are needed.