Is white rabbit candy safe to eat? (History of the candy)
In this brief article, we are going to answer the question “Is white rabbit candy safe to eat?” We will also explore how white rabbit candy became part of a great food scandal and deemed unsafe for consumption.
Is white rabbit candy safe to eat?
Yes, white rabbit candy is safe to eat. White Rabbit Creamy Candy is a brand of milk candy manufactured by Shanghai Guan Sheng Yuan Food in China. It is made of Corn Starch Syrup, Cane Sugar, Butter, and Milk. The White Rabbit trademark uses a jumping white rabbit.
The toffee wrapped in it is white, about 3 cm long and 1 cm in diameter. It has a fragrant, waxy and chewy texture. Each candy is wrapped in edible rice paper.
While they are considered safe to eat, in 2008 there was a food scandal in China involving milk and milk-based products (like the white rabbit candy) adulterated with the industrial chemical melamine. This contributed, to a rapid decline of social trust that had far-reaching social and political ramifications. (1-3)
What’s the historical background of the white rabbit candy?
In 1943, Feng Boyong, the owner of “ABC Candy Factory” in Shanghai, after trying British milk candy, created his brand of domestic milk candy through careful research and development. He also used the popular “Mickey Mouse” cartoon image at the time to design a Mickey Mouse packaging for his product. The candy was named “ABC Mickey Mouse Candy.” (2)
Why did the candy change Mickey Mouse for a white rabbit?
In the anti-Western political climate after the Communist victory, because Mickey Mouse can give people the impression of admiring foreign things and from a market perspective, Guanshengyuan specially asked a Shanghai art design company to design new product packaging. The candy was renamed White Rabbit and quickly became a staple at Chinese New Year gatherings.
With the reform and opening up of China beginning in 1980, the brand began extending its reach beyond China, first to other Asian countries and then to Europe, North America and Australia. (2)
When did concerns about the safety of white rabbit candy begin?
The initial scandal that impacted White Rabbit Candy was not directly related to the candy itself but had broader implications for Chinese exports, foreshadowing issues with the Chinese food supply that would later affect the candy. In 2007, there was a recall of various brands of pet food in the United States, Europe, and South Africa.
These products contained ingredients imported from China, and the recall was initiated after dogs and cats exhibited renal failure following consumption. Initially, it was suspected that the pet food contained Aminopterin, a form of rat poison.
However, further investigations revealed that the actual culprit was melamine, an industrial chemical added to wheat and rice gluten to artificially boost their protein content. This scandal holds significant importance for several reasons, with the most crucial being that it foreshadowed the widespread use of melamine by Chinese farmers and food manufacturers.
This same use of melamine would later contribute to the 2008 milk scandal that had a direct impact on White Rabbit Candy. Furthermore, it marked the beginning of growing international skepticism towards Chinese food products. (1)
Why white rabbit candy was considered unsafe?
The worst scandal involving White Rabbit Candy was the 2008 Chinese milk scandal. It all began when a significant number of children in China started experiencing a sharp increase in kidney stone cases. Investigations ultimately revealed that the root cause was the contamination of milk powder with melamine.
Initially, both the government and the dairy industry claimed that the contamination was confined to products from smaller companies. However, it soon became evident that even some of China’s largest and most reputable brands, including those from Sanlu, the nation’s largest dairy company, had been tainted.
While milk powder is a key ingredient in White Rabbit Candy, the extent of contamination within the candy remains unclear. Many retailers began removing the candy from their shelves even before tests confirmed melamine contamination, primarily due to its strong association with milk.
On September 24, the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety released test results revealing the presence of melamine in White Rabbit Candy. (1)
Was the presence of melamine in the candy dangerous?
No, there was a prevailing belief that the melamine levels in White Rabbit candy presented a relatively low health risk. It was estimated that for a 60 kg adult, consuming more than 47 White Rabbit sweets daily throughout their lifetime would be necessary to surpass the tolerable threshold.
Nevertheless, despite this assessment, most international distributors initiated a recall of the candy. The company also halted its candy exports for several months, with a resumption in 2009. They asserted that the candy was now exclusively produced using milk sourced from Australia and New Zealand. (1)
Why can melamine be dangerous?
Melamine and cyanuric acid are generally considered safe when used separately in low doses. However, when these substances are combined, they create compounds that are poorly soluble in water. The precipitation of these melamine-cyanuric acid compounds in the renal tubules can lead to progressive blockages and the degeneration of these tubules.
Additionally, melamine can trigger inflammation by activating nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate oxidase (NOX), which increases the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), thus causing chronic kidney inflammation.
The outbreaks of pediatric nephrolithiasis and acute kidney injury linked to melamine-contaminated formulas have brought attention to the potential health effects associated with melamine exposure. (4)
In this brief article, we answered the question “Is white rabbit candy safe to eat?” We also explored how white rabbit candy became part of a great food scandal and deemed unsafe for consumption.
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JONES, Rodney H. Suicide Candy: Tracing the discourse itineraries of food risk. In: Communicating risk. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2015. p. 340-358.
Shanghai Guanshengyuan Food Co., Ltd., “White rabbit” 2023. [Online]. Available: http://www.gsygroup.com/plus/list.php?tid=20 [Accessed: 18-Oct-2023].
Queensway Trading Company. “WHITE RABBIT-Creamy Candy [Online]. Available: https://www.qfco.com/whiterabbit/creamy.html# [Accessed: 18-Oct-2023].
LI, Qi; SONG, Pan; WEN, Jianguo. Melamine and food safety: A 10-year review. Current Opinion in Food Science, v. 30, p. 79-84, 2019.