It’s not just about pet food

The New York Times has a story up about the pet food contamination scandal that claims adulteration with melamine is an open secret in China, and that it’s been in the human food chain for a long time:

Workers at the Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical Company say they commonly add the chemical melamine in the process of making animal feed. Melamine appears as protein but has no nutritional value.

For years, producers of animal feed all over China have secretly supplemented their feed with the substance, called melamine, a cheap additive that looks like protein in tests, even though it does not provide any nutritional benefits, according to melamine scrap traders and agricultural workers here.

“Many companies buy melamine scrap to make animal feed, such as fish feed,” said Ji Denghui, general manager of the Fujian Sanming Dinghui Chemical Company, which sells melamine. “I don’t know if there’s a regulation on it. Probably not. No law or regulation says ‘don’t do it,’ so everyone’s doing it. The laws in China are like that, aren’t they? If there’s no accident, there won’t be any regulation.”…

…The pet food case is also putting China’s agricultural exports under greater scrutiny because the country has had a terrible food safety record.

In recent years, for instance, China’s food safety scandals have involved everything from fake baby milk formulas and soy sauce made from human hair to instances where cuttlefish were soaked in calligraphy ink to improve their color and eels were fed contraceptive pills to make them grow long and slim.

For their part, Chinese officials dispute any suggestion that melamine from the country could have killed pets. But regulators here on Friday banned the use of melamine in vegetable proteins made for export or for use in domestic food supplies.

Yet what is clear from visiting this region of northeast China is that for years melamine has been quietly mixed into Chinese animal feed and then sold to unsuspecting farmers as protein-rich pig, poultry and fish feed.

“If there’s no accident, there won’t be any regulation…”

It’s no surprise to anyone who’s followed contemporary China closely that unscrupulous business owners cut corners to lower costs and increase profits. But I place the blame on our own cutthroat, corporatist system as well. Where was the FDA? What happened to food safety?

Remember how Ronald Reagan helped to demonize the government? What was that cute joke of his, “the nine scariest words in the English language — ‘I’m with the government, and I’m here to help.” So we’ve cut services, privatized, outsourced, basically allowed the agencies that are supposed to be working for our benefit to be gutted and co-opted, to the point where the state of California had to sue the Environmental Protection Agency in order to regulate tail-pipe emissions…and poisoned pets, contaminates in the human food chain, are just one result.

There’s something deeply wrong with the current logic of globalization, when the United States, one of the world’s agricultural powerhouses, is importing substandard food products from China, simply because they are “cheaper.”

“Cheaper”? What are the real costs here? To our health. To our environment. The amount of fossil fuels burned to transport this stuff alone should give us pause.

It’s past time to start factoring in the social and environmental costs of doing business when we consider the definition of profitability.

H/T to SusanHu of No Quarter and Itchmo

UPDATE The FDA announced that it will limit the import of certain Chinese food products until they can be proven safe, to include “wheat gluten, rice gluten, rice protein, rice protein concentrate, corn gluten, corn gluten meal, corn by-products, soy protein, soy gluten, mung-bean protein and amino acids” – ingredients found in everything “from noodles to breakfast bars.” They’ve also confirmed that pet deaths are in the thousands, not the few dozen they’ve insisted on, against all evidence.

Stay tuned.


Closing the Duck Pond

It was going strong for a year but I no longer have time to maintain it. I can’t even get in to post. So I am removing the link and will let the forum die a slow death. If anyone wants to start a thread on a new topic here on the blog, email it to me and I will set it up if it seems a good idea.


“Not Made in China”

Interesting. The sign has all kinds of implications, though we’d probably never agree on what they are.


IHT: Beijing announces lavish Olympic torch relay, but Taiwan backs out

So Beijing announced the route of the Olympic torch relay. It’s a long, grand, and glorious march to 2008 and the route will take the Olympic flame nearly 85,000 miles over five continents but it’s the proposed stops in Tibet and Taiwan that are getting the most attention. This week activists protested the inclusion of Mt. Everest as a torch destination. Today, the Taipei government announced it would not allow the torch to cross Taiwan.

“The Beijing 2008 torch relay will, as its theme says, be a journey of harmony, bringing friendship and respect to people of different nationalities, races and creeds,” IOC President Jacques Rogge told the ceremony.

Nevertheless, both Beijing and Taiwan hoped to use the torch relay to bolster political agendas: for Beijing, that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory, and for Taiwan that it is independent.

To that end, Taiwan wanted to participate as part of the international route — with the torch entering and departing the island via nations other than China. China would like the island run to be part of the domestic route.

In an attempt at compromise that Beijing said Taiwan had agreed to, Olympic organizers said the torch would pass from Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City to Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, and then to Hong Kong, which is Chinese-controlled but semiautonomous.

“I sincerely hope that Taiwan compatriots can enjoy the glories and joy of the torch relay,” Jiang Xiaoyu, a vice president of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, told reporters.

In dueling statements in the two capitals, Jiang said Taiwan’s Olympic Committee had earlier signed off on the route while Taiwan’s Tsai rejected the notion.

“This route is a domestic route that constitutes an attempt to downgrade our sovereignty,” Tsai said.

Unfortunately, this promises to be the first of many such rows over the next 15 months. What is the solution here?


George Will reviews Jim Mann

In his column today in the Wasington Post, George Will reviews Jim Mann’s new book The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression. Will’s views on China are about what you would expect them to be. He is a believer that capitalism requires the kind of free access to information and personal choice that leads to democratic changes. Mann’s book is less optimistic.

From Will’s review:

Mann warns against “McDonald’s triumphalism,” the belief that because the Chinese increasingly eat like us, they are becoming like us. That is related to “the Starbucks fallacy” — the hope that as the Chinese become accustomed to many choices of coffee, they will demand more political choices.

His most disturbing thesis is that “the newly enriched, Starbucks-sipping, apartment-buying, car-driving denizens” of the large cities that American visitors to China see will be not the vanguard of democracy but the opposition to it. There may be 300 million such denizens, but there are 1 billion mostly rural and very poor Chinese. Will the minority prospering economically under a Leninist regime think majority rule is in their interest?

There is certainly a great–and growing–gap in wealth between the urban few and the rural many. Is China really in danger of becoming two countries? What interests does the urban elite share with their country cousins? What happens when you reintroduce a stratified class system into a socialist society? Or is all of this just another stage in development with society becoming more harmonious with time?


“My Brother, the Dissident”

Okay, you’ve all heard me whine about not having an internet connection, not having a computer (my cat peed on it. Really) and in general being too busy to post – thankfully only the last one of those applies at the moment – but in lieu of a post that requires actual thought or writing, I thought I’d pass along this link to a lengthy and nuanced New Yorker article by Jianying Zha about her brother, a jailed activist. It’s not the black and white bash-fest you might expect; Zha avoids howls of outrage and easy conclusions. Go have a look.

Or, I dunno, we could go back to arguing about what country is more racist, Tibetan/Taiwanese independence/splittism, and what’s that whole White guy/Asian woman/White woman/Asian man thing about, anyway?

Your call.


Michael T on Taiwan-US defence policy

Michael Turton makes some fair criticism of Ted Galen Carpenter’s inability to see or unwillingness to discuss the trouble the US has caused in the saga of Taiwan defence policy, whilst also correcting some rather ridiculous comments about Taiwan doing nothing on defence.

I also found an interesting comment.

It is dubious enough for the U.S. to risk war with an emerging great power like China to defend a small client state of comparably modest strategic and economic significance.

Sorry – “client state”? Since when was the U.S. an empire? Doesn’t it respect the right of other countries to sort out their own affairs? Maybe part of the problem is that jerks like Ted Carpenter expect to be able to call the shots in Taiwan and don’t respect its right to make its own destiny, despite comments about it being a democracy.

Read Michael’s thoughts here:

The View from Taiwan


Good Americans

Somewhere in the blitz of articles and threads and forums going on about the Virginia Tech massacre I saw a prediction that now Americans would turn on South Koreans and lay bare their racism. I never believed it for an instant (what does the shooter’s race have to do with anything?). And when I read this a few minutes go I felt the kind of pride I used to feel as a boy about America, a feeling that, sadly, I haven’t felt in a long time.

The day before yesterday, the Student Government Association of Virginia Tech sent an e-mail of appreciation to the Korean Embassy in the United States, in spite of its own agonies after the horrific massacre at Virginia Tech. In the letter, the students acknowledged their gratitude for the compassion and condolences that President Roh Moo-hyun, the leaders of Korea and other Koreans have demonstrated.

“Our strongest feelings are those channeled towards restoring sanctity and safety for students and people of all ethnicities, faiths, and representations. We are grateful to the Republic of Korea for expressing solidarity in this common pursuit,” read the message from the SGA. It also said, “(The) actions of one man will not and do not serve as a barrier between our students and the people of Korea.”

You can say a lot of negative things about America nowadays, and I’ll agree with many of the criticisms. But it’s still a great country with great people. I know, I know – that sounds trite and mawkish. But that’s okay once in a while. After looking evil in the face, literally, all week, maybe it’s time to take a look at man’s better side, exemplified by these wonderful students.


China’s tax rebellion?

The following is from last week’s Economist. I thought it interesting because I have always thought that if the middle classes in China object to CCP rule, it will be over things related to money and luxuries – tax is therefore a key issue.

China’s tax system: Return to sender

The well-to-do in China have snubbed their government. This year for the first time, anyone earning more than 120,000 yuan ($15,500) annually is supposed to file a personal income-tax return. Yet by the deadline of April 2nd (extended by a couple of days because of low compliance), only a small minority had done so. Threats of massive fines have gone unheeded.

The problem facing the Chinese government is that they need to get more revenue from people that avoid paying full tax on their earnings, especially given the population will continue to age and more pressure will be created for them to be cared for (their children are already becoming less willing to look after them personally). The abolition of the agricultural tax and other initiatives to try to “pay off” the rural poor has also led to increased pressure on government budgets.

However, as the Economist points out, a lot of Chinese will ask why they should pay all their taxes when they get little or nothing in return from the State – they can’t even elect it.

But very few bother to pay personal income tax unless it is deducted automatically. As some Chinese newspapers have pointed out, this is partly because many Chinese believe they get little in return for their taxes. They have to pay through the nose for health care and for decent education for their children. They are also resentful that few officials pay tax, even though many have big incomes from shady dealings.

Even the words “no taxation without representation” have found their way into print, in an article in the Information Times, a government-owned newspaper in the southern city of Guangzhou. Noting that half of the delegates to China’s legislature were officials, the newspaper reported that commentators had pointed out that the parliament should have “fewer officials and more taxpayers”: an interesting distinction suggesting the taxman has struck a raw nerve.

“No taxation without representation” – is that a phrase that could be heard more and more in the future in China?


The victim from China

Read his brief biography and the incredibly poignant comments, several from readers in China, and tell me you weren’t moved. What a horror.

I watched in amazement as CNN showed the video clips this morning. Sickened and riveted, I wondered about the decision to air these things – something about it was so utterly foul, so filthy and revolting. I tried so hard to feel compassion for the deranged young man, and all I could feel was dread and sickness. Should they be running these tapes again and again, I asked myself? I don’t know. It seemed to cross a line from news into pornography of the darkest and most perverted kind. Yet it is news, so I understand why they ran it. Any child who sees it, however, might be traumatized for a long time. I might be, too.