Farmers took away tons of substandard and counterfeit goods on March 10, which were supposed to be destroyed in a Xuzhou suburb in Jiangsu province, East China, ignoring law enforcement officers’ warning not to do so. Among the goods were food and healthcare products, chemicals and electric wires.

It is an irony that counterfeit and substandard goods that quality supervisors seized from local markets to protect people’s health and interests are actually popular among consumers.

It is also an irony that law enforcement raids on rural markets mostly take place before and during Spring Festival while for the rest of the year they turn into havens for those making and selling counterfeit and substandard products, whose main consumers are the elderly and children left behind by their migrant worker-parents.

One example of such cheap products is the electric kettle, which is available for half the price of a good or genuine one and whose major drawbacks include frequent short circuits and unpleasant smell of plastic in the boiled water.

Shops run by village or township people, especially farmers, control the retail networks and they choose the "best" available substandard and counterfeit products for their customers.

Price is the most important factor influencing farmers’ consumption. As long as the products are cheap or, better still, come free – like the ones taken away in Xuzhou suburb – rural people are ready to ignore the minor health hazards and safety threats.

"We check whether the products are edible. If they are not, we feed them to the pigs," a woman was quoted as saying while carrying two big boxes of substandard soybean milk powder and condiments to her home in Xuzhou.

The problem is further complicated because small eateries and stalls near the gates of primary schools in rural areas sell all kinds of weird beverages and snacks, which children find irresistible because of lack of proper parental guidance on food safety. The latest victims of such spurious products are two children in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, East China – rashes broke out in their mouths after they ate a spicy snack which their grandparents had bought from a stall for 20 fen each on March 10.

The government is obliged to protect consumers from spurious and harmful products, and ensure the safety of food. So while promoting consumption to boost domestic economic growth, the government should focus not only on better-off urban residents, but also on farmers.

In fact, protecting people in rural areas is more important than those in cities, because the former are more vulnerable to fall victim to ill practices.

This calls for product quality watchdogs to supervise and monitor the production and sale of goods in rural areas throughout the year, instead of swinging into action only during major festivals and holidays, as well as educate rural consumers how to safeguard against dangers. The watchdogs should also take measures to ensure that makers and sellers of substandard and counterfeit products are punished.

Rural people opt for cheap or cheaper products because their incomes are low. China still has about 200 million farmers who survive on less than $1.25 a day, the poverty line drawn by the World Bank. The average individual disposable income of farmers is less than half of what people in urban areas earn, with the welfare gap between farmers and city residents remaining wide.

— By Li Yang