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.

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 70 Comments

“There’s something deeply wrong with the current logic of globalization”

Can’t agree with this quick and easy generalization. You seem to be harking back to a pre-globalization golden age when there were no food scares. Like most golden ages, this one is a myth, too.

What actually happened in the US? A company that got duped by a Chinese sourcer supplied defective products; the error was caught very quickly after at most a few canine casualties; the problem was fixed.

I literally can’t imagine how that could have gone any better.

China does have systemic problems, but the US’s are very small in comparison.

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

Who’s this “we”? I, for one, don’t consider the definition of profitability. And I also think that attempts to force corporations to are both unfair and ineffective. Companies exist to make money, and as a class, they’re very good at it. They cannot and should not be trusted or asked to look after social issues. That’s what governments are for.

It may be true that modern western governments give too much power to companies, but I really don’t think this story shows that to be true.

At the end of the day, I find it hard to get worked up about pet food. Health insurance providers, private prisons, rent-a-cops, big oil, big pharma – all these are very legitimate examples of where the government/corporation balance may have problems. Not pet food.

April 30, 2007 @ 8:02 pm | Comment

A ban on anything in China is about as worthless as tits on a mule.

Piracy on intellectual property rights is also banned in China – does a lot of good, doesn’t it?

I agree with the quote from Reagan, but not when it comes to agencies entrusted with maintaining the safety of our food supply; especially when it’s being imported from countries such as China that have substandard regulations and government oversight.

Then again, the US doesn’t really have a great deal of regulation enforcement when it comes to our own food supply and one needn’t look any further than the USDA for a prime example. The government can force auto companies to recall thousands of automobiles for the slightest safety malfunction, yet the USDA can’t even force meat processing companies to recall meat tainted with e coli.

I wonder how many pets have died in China as a result of this tainted pet food? (assuming that it’s used domestically).

April 30, 2007 @ 10:28 pm | Comment

It’s just disgusting that the US has rotting excesses of food and yet we buy crap, substandard foodstuffs from China. BTW, this problem is in the human food chain as well because grains used to make processed foods also come from baddirty China.

As I’ve said before, nothing good comes from CHina, not even chinese food as it is all filthy with industrial chemicals.

Bad China

April 30, 2007 @ 11:48 pm | Comment

Phil, nowhere did I say that I wanted a return to the pre-globalization days. I said there was something wrong with our current logic of globalization, that we are not considering very real costs in these decisions. I almost added words to that effect last night – I think the exchange of cultures and ideas that globalization has brought is a wonderful thing. BUT if we aren’t factoring in environmental and social costs, we are vastly overestimating how much money it “saves.”

Take Wal-mart. Though this is not specifically an example of globalization costs, it illustrates what I mean. The customer saves money shopping at Wal-mart because Wal-mart controls costs. However one of the ways Wal-mart controls costs is by not paying its workers terribly well and not providing them with affordable healthcare. Wal-mart workers in California frequently resort to using state health care services. So the California tax-payer is in effect, subsidizing Wal-mart with its tax dollars.

So how much did you save on that cheap microwave again?

THM, the sorts of governmental actions that you approve of are exactly the kinds of things that were targeted by the Reagan administration and the Grover Norquists (of drowning the government in a bathtub fame). It’s the same philosophy that has lead this country to even outsource war-fighting, as you look at the role that contractors have played in Iraq. It saves no one money, it only serves to enrich the business interests who directly participate and profit. The only thing cheaper about paying a KBR trucker 80-90K a year and a soldier 30K is that the government isn’t obligated to provide healthcare for the injured KBR worker.

And Nanetc, it would be nice if you could make your critiques without resorting to name-calling like “baddirty China.” Just for a change.

May 1, 2007 @ 1:08 am | Comment

And Phil, something else I meant to respond to – the point of the article is that it’s not just about pet food – the melamine is in the human food chain. We don’t know what its consequences for human health might be.

And as far as pets are concerned – tell the people who lost their animals and spent thousands of dollars at the vet to try and treat them that pet food isn’t worthy of regulation.

People have a responsibility as well, to be informed and make smarter choices when buying. But look at another recent food contamination here in the States – bagged spinach, contaminated with e coli from fecal runoff from a nearby feed lot. These parents thought they were making a healthy choice.

It’s not just about Chinese imports; it’s about our food system as well. There’s a growing movement to buy “local” products – Whole Foods is doing this – but that’s a topic for another discussion.

May 1, 2007 @ 1:13 am | Comment

Plus – jeez, i keep seeing things in your comment, Phil – a “few canine casualities”?! Have you been following this story? Estimates are as high as 30,000 cats and dogs. No one knows for sure how long the contamination has been going on. And it wasn’t the FDA that caught it. It was actually IAMS, one of the brands that contracted out to Menu Foods, who forced the recall.

Check out the itchmo blog linked above if you are interested in the details.

May 1, 2007 @ 1:16 am | Comment

There is increasing awareness of the benefits of buying locally grown produce. It isn’t just a feel good thing. Local produce is higher in nutrients, and small farmers use more sustainable farming methods. Most Americans CAN afford to buy sustainable farming meat, dairy, and produce and would spend the money if they knew the value of locally grown and raised.

The only problem is that not everything I eat is grown or produced locally. The garlic I buy is probably from China, but I figure even if it’s contaminated with pesticide residues (which it probably is), the rest of my diet is so clean, my liver can handle whatever doesn’t wash off the garlic.

Reading stories like this does make me really, really glad I’m back in the US, where independent farmers sell their produce directly in the community. The farmers I buy from are from the area, have been in business for decades, and thus, there is a reassuring feeling of trust in buying directly from local farmers.

May 1, 2007 @ 1:42 am | Comment

This is a chance for other countries to do what Chinese citizens ought to be doing, but cannot: put pressure on their government to keep its rogue manufacturers in line. China wants to appear on the world stage as a modern, well-managed and successful country, not a tin-pot third world producer of low-quality goods. If China knows it risks losing face, as well as export dollars, it will regulate its industries in a better fashion.

May 1, 2007 @ 5:19 am | Comment

@Sonagi – If you’re located in the western US, your liver is probably safe: your garlic was likely grown in Gilroy, CA.

@Phil – If your truly feel that way about the poisoning of much-loved pets – I hope to God you don’t have any.

Are there other, more major problems in the US at large? Yes, but few of them hit us where we live quite as hard.

May 1, 2007 @ 10:15 am | Comment

otherlisa:

A commentary from me without scolding “baddirty China” is like cornflakes without the milk, flat beer, warm beer or sex without a climax.

May 1, 2007 @ 11:09 am | Comment

Whoah – okay, I’ve been spoofed. I’m about to delete the spoofer’s comment, but anyone reading a whacked out comment about Nan-etc. being obsessed with Chinese food…um, that’s not me.

And Spoofer, I have access to your IP address. So don’t try it again.

May 1, 2007 @ 3:58 pm | Comment

Okay, Spoofer, I know where you are, and I even have some name information.

Here’s how it works here – if you want to leave a comment, go right ahead. You don’t need to use your real name, but you are not allowed to pretend to be someone else, and you will get deleted for overt, flaming hate speech. That was one of the reasons I cautioned Nan-etc. But we like to err on the side of tolerance here.

And don’t use my name again. Nobody here is going to buy it anyway. Your spelling and grammar aren’t good enough to pull it off.

May 1, 2007 @ 4:10 pm | Comment

yes, otherlisa, it does not matter which name i use, you guys just can tolerant nasty words that NHYRC, and whatever he wrote and attack chinese never got deleted, yes, you can criticise , attack, blame chinese, while chinese can not say anything bad about you, shame on you, nasty racist

May 1, 2007 @ 7:39 pm | Comment

For the record, my attacks are limited to the chinese gov’t and China as a whole. The people of China are victims and prisoners, that is what makes China and the CCP so, so bad…to treat your own people like disposable cogs in a machine built to glorify yourself.

The “racist” label is played out, that barb was effective in the US about 5-10 years ago when people were more sensitive about being PC.

The CCP is full of dirty, knuckle dragging goons.

May 2, 2007 @ 12:25 am | Comment

Yeahright, I’m not going to delete you for that, but I will delete you for multiple user names and especially for spoofing. Pick a handle and stick to it. I’d also suggest that you try proposing an argument instead of ranting like a child.

Nan-H, “China as a whole” is a problematic classification. What does that mean, really? Your comments come pretty close to poo-flinging as well.

Finally, I’d appreciate it if people would actually discuss the topic of the post, and save the name-calling for the playground.

May 2, 2007 @ 1:07 am | Comment

“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.”

That’s good news. Maybe they will finally start checking their food.

May 2, 2007 @ 12:19 pm | Comment

In keeping with the real OtherLisa’s wish to keep this thread on target, I’ve attached the following story from the LA Times. The extent of the food tainting goes well beyond pet food and into such products as corn syrup, beer, bread, etc. in BOTH China and the US.

http://tinyurl.com/25qpyy

>From the Los Angeles Times
Chinese businesses say animal feed commonly laced with mildly toxic melamine
>From the Associated Press

10:57 AM PDT, April 30, 2007

BEIJING – The mildly toxic chemical melamine is commonly added to animal feed in China, a manager of a feed company and one of the chemical’s producers said today, describing a process that fraudulently boosts the feed’s sales value but risks introducing the chemical into meat eaten by humans.

Customers either don’t know or aren’t concerned about the practice, said Wang Jianhui, manager of the Kaiyuan Protein Feed company in the northern city of Shijiazhuang.

“We’ve been running the melamine feed business for about 15 years and receiving positive responses from our customers,” Wang told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“Using the proper quantity of melamine will not harm the animals. Our products are very safe, for sure,” Wang said.

Although apparently widely practiced in China, melamine use sparked concern only in March, after the U.S. recall of nearly 100 brands of pet food made with wheat gluten contaminated by the chemical. Adding melamine to food is illegal under American law, and China’s government last week said it was banning its use in food products.

Melamine has no nutritional value but because it is nitrogen rich, it raises the nitrogen level of feed, making it appear that the feed is higher in protein without increasing its nutritional value. That makes it attractive to makers of feed for stock animals such as pigs, chickens, and fish, as well as companies that make prepared foods for household pets such as cats and dogs.

Despite Wang’s claim of safety, pet food tainted with melamine apparently has resulted in kidney failure in an unknown number of cats and other animals across the United States.

Some pet food was also shipped to hog farms in several states for use as feed and was later discovered to have another ingredient, rice protein concentrate, imported from China that was also tainted with melamine. Thousands of U.S. hogs that were fed contaminated feed were being destroyed to prevent adulterated meat from reaching consumers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has blocked wheat and rice gluten from Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. and Binzhou Futian Bio-technology Co. after melamine was found in samples taken from batches used to make pet food.

China’s government has said it will allow officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate melamine contamination.

Melamine is not considered a human health concern, but there is no scientific data on the health effects of melamine combined with the other compounds. Made from coal, the chemical is usually used in the making of plastics or fertilizer.

“A lot of animal food companies buy melamine from us to add in the animal feed,” said Ji Denghui, manager of Sanming Dinghui Chemical Trading Co. based in the eastern province of Fujian. “This can lower the production cost and increase nitrogen levels.”

Xuzhou Anying was found to have posted an advertisement on the Web site of online market place 999ce.com in March seeking to buy melamine. Other online searches for companies seeking to buy melamine were linked to companies in the chemical industry.

Xuzhou Anying’s ad did not say what it intended to use the melamine for and managers have said they don’t know how melamine came to be in the contaminated wheat gluten, which it claims to have purchased from another supplier.

However, Ji of Dinghui Chemical said the practice was not considered illegal and downplayed the risk.

“As far as I know, there are no rules of regulations that make this illegal. As to whether melamine is toxic or not, I believe it won’t do any harm if there is only very small amount,” Ji said. “Otherwise, those companies could not do that.”

Calls to China’s food safety regulator, the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection & Quarantine, rang unanswered Monday afternoon.

The discovery of tainted animal feed was merely the latest revelation about China’s food safety woes, ranging from dye-tainted fish, and fake baby formula to the alleged use of ingredients intended for animal consumption to make snack foods.

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service
Home Delivery | Advertise | Archives | Contact | Site Map | Help

Bad, poisonous China.

May 2, 2007 @ 12:30 pm | Comment

I think you guys are all forgetting that some fresh fruits and lettuce produced in the US kill humans. The E coli thingy…Also, a few years ago some apple juicy and fruit juice are killing people, too, from expansive organic farms.

How about the burger patties that are full of shit; go read the book Fastfood Nation or watch the movie.

And don’t forget about the madcow disease which has incubation period of about 15-30 years. If you want more detail, go read the book Deadly Feasts.

May 2, 2007 @ 2:35 pm | Comment

Arty, you are absolutely right. I don’t think that there is any contradiction between what has happened with Chinese food imports and the very real deficiencies with our own agricultural/industrial complex – these things are different manifestations of the basic root problem.

May 2, 2007 @ 3:52 pm | Comment

As a p.s. – the problem with melamine seems to be how it interacts with another industrial adulterant. I again direct you to itchmo.com – they really have been the blog of record on this issue.

May 2, 2007 @ 3:53 pm | Comment

“I think you guys are all forgetting that some fresh fruits and lettuce produced in the US kill humans. The E coli thingy…”

A little FYI on the E coli spinach scare. The local farmer who supplies my fresh, organic produce informed me that greens from those large factory farms in California get triple washed before they’re packed. The problem is that it is impossible to remove every trace of bacteria. Whatever manages to survive the triple washing breeds prolifically in the anaerobic environment of a sealed plastic bag during the time the greens are in transit and storage. Healthy adults and teenagers won’t get more than a bellyache and some diarrhea; it is the young, elderly, and sick who are vulnerable. If locally grown isn’t available, then washing with produce cleaner and cooking if possible will render factory farm products safe to eat.

The main difference I see between China’s food supply and ours in the US is that locally grown organic is available to many consumers. In China, major supermarkets stock organic produce, but it seems to be the equivalent of the factory farm stuff grown in California.

May 2, 2007 @ 10:30 pm | Comment

E. coli is easy to spread around because E. coli lives on us and in us.

The problem with China’s crappy food exports is that melamin and possibly other chemicals are deliberately added to give false labl readings without any regard to the effects on humans or animals.

Fake baby formula Lisa? Same country, same culture, same gov’t, same crap.

May 2, 2007 @ 11:42 pm | Comment

Well, the e coli contamination came as a result of runoff from a giant feedlot – there are serious structural problems with our agricultural/industrial complex.

As I stated in my post, I’m not at all surprised by this melamine adulturation. Chinese people have been suffering from these sorts of practices for years. In addition to creating a rule of law that actually administers justice, there’s a real need for a true civil society and a shared sense of public interest, one that is based on some modicum of trust. That’s going to take a while to develop, but there are all sorts of signs that it is. Speaking of pets, I think about the huge protests over the “1 family, 1 dog” laws. It seems trivial on the one hand, but a lot of people thought the pet food poisoning was trivial too. I think it’s a manifestation of something much larger.

May 3, 2007 @ 1:34 am | Comment

@Sonagi: while there are so called organic (or green) products that are available in China, its been found time and again that these aren’t actually organic at all. So yes, I agree with you that a main difference is that in the States there are options (like food co-ops) that gives you more connection with the source of your food.

With the exception of Watson’s water, its been found that no other water bottler in China consistently provides filtered water in their bottles. Scary thought (boil everything!).

May 3, 2007 @ 3:32 am | Comment

Thanks, Lisa – I hadn\’t read the link, and I didn\’t know about the entry into the human food chain. This obviously makes it a much more serious issue.

I take all your points on board. The point of my post was to say that in situations like this (and the case of Wal-mart you mention), I don\’t think we should be pointing fingers at companies. Companies do what we made them to do. We should be demanding that our governments regulate companies much more tightly.

I\’m also not a fan of the organic food movement (as it\’s called in Britain, I guess equivalent to wholefoods) because it is rather badly regulated, and there is no real evidence that it\’s more healthy (that I\’ve seen). Nor am I a big fan of \”buying local\” – it can actually be worse for the environment, and I am far from convinced that it improves safety standards.

Given China\’s poor safety record, I would support really heft mandatory health checks on all imports. This seems to me to be a direct solution to the problem at hand.

@Kat – we\’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one. I\’m a veggie. I\’m veggie because an animal holocaust occurs every day on this planet. A few more pampered pooches doesn\’t really make a difference for me.
The value of an animal\’s life does *NOT* depend on how much it is loved. Animals are not consumer products.
Where I live we have a dog, and I am nice to it I walk it and play with it. But it\’s just a dog. I\’m never going to get emotional over it. It\’s just not my style.

I\’m not saying these doggy deaths aren\’t a bad thing, I\’m just saying that I personally can\’t get worked up about them, not compared with all the really bad stuff that happens out there. That\’s a choice of emphasis and style, not a moral point.

May 3, 2007 @ 4:22 am | Comment

“Fake baby formula Lisa? Same country, same culture”

Maybe they should add some fen phen and vioxx to give it the zest of superior culture!

Then we can have a media circus featuring lots of 370 pound toadies who are outraged at China’s disregard for their health.

Of course they’d have to do some preliminary tests on random children in third world countries after paying off corrupt officials.

Like my mother’s class, for example. A few of them were paralyzed from the waist down after 20 years.

Give it a rest, stupid.

May 3, 2007 @ 5:39 am | Comment

nice try ferins, how much compensation did the fake baby powder families get? The baby powder wasn’t even doctored, it wasn’t even baby powder.

worthless, bad china.

May 3, 2007 @ 5:45 am | Comment

Nothing. Kinda like my mother’s alumni who can’t walk anymore.

People can learn how to read (particularly labels), wake up to reality, and stop whining.

The problem is three things: 1) China putting crap in the food 2) Corporate beasts selling America out for profit 3) Idiots who can’t read labels and subscribe to the Church of Zombie Consumerism

May 3, 2007 @ 6:01 am | Comment

Phil wrote:

“Nor am I a big fan of \”buying local\” – it can actually be worse for the environment, and I am far from convinced that it improves safety standards.”

How so? Small farms typically use sustainable methods like crop rotation and natural pesticides.

May 3, 2007 @ 6:18 am | Comment

Nan-etc., make your point without resorting to name calling, or I will delete you. By “name calling” I mean referring to an entire country as “bad” and “worthless.”

Phil, it seems that we agree more than we disagree.

May 3, 2007 @ 7:45 am | Comment

Sonagi – I\\\’m not in a position to get into the science with you, cos I\\\’m not an expert. But I\\\’ve read a bunch of articles which say things like:

Organic farming methods can actually reduce biodiversity on farms (can\\\’t remember why)

Buying local actually increases the amount of \\\”car miles\\\” used in getting produce from the farm to the table, because you have lots of small local journeys instead of a few big lorries carrying stuff across country.

Small farms producing organic stuff tend to sell for higher prices. I\\\’m much more interested in solutions that work for all of agriculture, not just niche organic markets. (This one seems to be changing rapidly though!)

Small farms and distribution network means less standardization of health and safety procedures. Just because something is \\\”natural\\\”, this does *not* mean that it\\\’s good for you, or won\\\’t make you ill. Organic stuff needs to be monitored as closely as other foods, and in some cases it is not obvious that this happens.

May 3, 2007 @ 8:10 am | Comment

I can’t remember if I mentioned this or not – Whole Foods has a “buy local” program that’s really interesting – not without controversy but promising nonetheless.

Link here

May 3, 2007 @ 9:10 am | Comment

“The problem is three things: 1) China putting crap in the food 2) Corporate beasts selling America out for profit 3) Idiots who can’t read labels and subscribe to the Church of Zombie Consumerism”

ferrins: I am in complete agreement.

As for “buy local” programs, there are regulatory debates at the state and local levels, with Cali standards being the benchmark. But for now, if Whole Foods, Vitamin Cottage or any other place sells organic food that makes people sick, the lawsuits and bad press will hit them and their suppliers hard, that fear seems to be enough to keep them in line as many local suppliers cannot withstand a tainted food lawsuit.

May 3, 2007 @ 10:16 am | Comment

Phil wrote:

“Organic farming methods can actually reduce biodiversity on farms (can\\\’t remember why)”

I’m familiar with many arguments against organic, but I haven’t heard of this one. I find it hard to believe that small farms using sustainable methods of crop rotation would reduce biodiversity compared to factory farm monocultures.

“Buying local actually increases the amount of \\\”car miles\\\” used in getting produce from the farm to the table, because you have lots of small local journeys instead of a few big lorries carrying stuff across country.”

I’ve heard this argument but haven’t seen any hard numerical data, so I’m skeptical. You also have to calculate the costs of storage and labor. It isn’t like one truck hauls produce from California to my supermarket in Virginia. The produce is collected and then dispersed through distribution centers.

“Small farms producing organic stuff tend to sell for higher prices. I\\\’m much more interested in solutions that work for all of agriculture, not just niche organic markets. (This one seems to be changing rapidly though!)”

You get what you pay for. Produce from small farms has been proven through research to be much higher in nutrients than factory farm produce. This makes sense. It is fresher and probably spent more time growing in the ground and storing nutrients. Middle class and wealthy Americans can afford locally grown. Might have to give up that $75 deluxe cable or carpool to work. It’s all a matter of priorities.

“Small farms and distribution network means less standardization of health and safety procedures. Just because something is \\\”natural\\\”, this does *not* mean that it\\\’s good for you, or won\\\’t make you ill. Organic stuff needs to be monitored as closely as other foods, and in some cases it is not obvious that this happens.”

Most certified organic produce in the US comes from factory farms in California. The only difference between factory farm non-organic and organic are the pesticides used. Agricultural regulations apply to large and small farms alike. No government agent inspects the farmers market produce I buy every weekend, but I’m not worried. I wash everything and cook most veggies. I have visited the farms of every farmer I buy from and seen for myself how my food is raised and grown.

For me, the biggest concern is nutritional quality. Produce begins to lose vitamin nutrients once it’s picked. Vitamin C is especially prone to deterioration. That’s why I choose locally grown non-organic over factory farm organic.

May 4, 2007 @ 12:25 am | Comment

I cycled across Europe from Belfast to Athens working on organic farms which gave me free food and accommodation. There’s a huge difference in an organic farm in Powys to one on the side of a Swiss mountain but I was struck by how similar the mentality of the farmers were; a humane approach to animals while making sure everything produced is accounted for.
Noticed this morning that China’s arrested the general manager of one of the companies that sold the contaminated wheat gluten, so that’s a good sign that China’s ensuring its producers are accountable, too.
http://tinyurl.com/2849v6

May 4, 2007 @ 6:56 am | Comment

Actually this fiasco has a silver lining. The Chinese will have to improve the quality control, if they want export any more food overseas. Maybe even the domestic market will get better quality control.

Just like the US which was “full of dirty, knuckle dragging goons” (as I quote :) ) got better quality control after the recent food contamination scare.

May 4, 2007 @ 11:50 am | Comment

maybe us grown spinach wont get shit all over it as well, poisoning old ladies with e.coli and killing them.

May 4, 2007 @ 1:05 pm | Comment

“Just like the US which was “full of dirty, knuckle dragging goons” (as I quote :) ) got better quality control after the recent food contamination scare.”

LA, you’d have to go back 100 years for the US food industry to be as bad as China’s (See Upton Sinclair). It’s not lack of technology or know-how, just lack of willingness and enforcement…same as pollution control.

ferins: E.coli is on everything, including your skin. At least US water isn’t so hard as to let clothes become sheets of cardboard when they are hung out to dry.
After 5000 years, when will China get its act together?

May 4, 2007 @ 2:42 pm | Comment

i’m guessing 20-30 years. though if they still had their old ways as you mention, they would be fine. after all, they were inventing alcoholic beverages when the romans were sodomizing dead deer in caves. or drawing pictures of it.

May 4, 2007 @ 6:40 pm | Comment

Romans, dead deer, caves? Yeesh. I guess sticking to the point here is near impossible for both sides. And too bad there are “sides.” I wouldn’t say that I have one.

By the way, here is an interesting story about one man’s efforts to clean up China’s honey industry. It’s a good case study of the problems China’s food industry faces. Sun Baoli, the honey producer, makes the point that the best quality food products are exported, leaving the substandard for the domestic market. So I’d say though the melamine contamination illustrates problems with globalization and the US’ own trade and economic policies (and weak government regulation), most of the brunt of substandard foods and dangerous contaminants is born by Chinese people themselves.

I understand responding to insults, Ferins (I would too), but I don’t understand getting defensive about a very real problem that has been well-documented and cost many Chinese lives.

May 5, 2007 @ 1:29 am | Comment

nanheyangrouchuan,

Go read Fastfood Nation and Reefer Madness before you are saying our food industry is much better than China. The reason that we have keep our cost down mainly because we are exploiting migrant workers who earn less than minimum wages with no benefits.

Although E. Coli is everywhere. However, the particular strain of E Coli that kills people is not everywhere except the FDA did find them in the water supplies of the growth area. We can irradiate the veggies and make them absolutely safe but we don’t do it. And the excuse is that irration doesn’t sound safe which has been scienctifically proven wrong (it is a cost thing).

May 5, 2007 @ 3:01 am | Comment

“I understand responding to insults, Ferins (I would too), but I don’t understand getting defensive about a very real problem that has been well-documented and cost many Chinese lives.”

I think it’s pretty infuriating that Chinese people are made to eat and drink such crap; but I don’t know the statistics yet. Thanks for the link!

May 5, 2007 @ 9:19 am | Comment

Actually there isn’t much difference between Chinese and Americans or anybody else, as a matter of fact. There will always be some people wanting to cut corners somewhere. Some stories about some unscrupulous “full of dirty, knuckle dragging goons” food merchants comes to mind.

The only difference is that US has the will to enforce the rule of law (food quality control, in this instance), while China does not.

May 5, 2007 @ 10:54 am | Comment

@Ferins
You’re better than your last comment.

@Arty
What you talkin’bout?

May 5, 2007 @ 1:13 pm | Comment

Arty:

The movies/books you mentioned, as well as “Silent Spring” and that Upton Sinclair book from 100 years ago wouldn’t make it to the stands in China, though I’m sure a few people have compiled such literature.
But they’d be jailed for espionage, splittism, promoting disharmony, etc in wonderful China.

Toxic E. coli also comes from animal waste, the spores are as hardy as rock and all it takes is one (called a Colony Forming Unit) to make it to the produce section in any given supermarket.
Perhaps your mom or grandmother never taught you to wash your veggies?
China’s food pollution goes way past E.coli. When I eat rice in the US, I don’t get rocks, same with the veggies.

Yes, our agriculture industry expoits migrant workers, especially illegal ones, but they actually choose that life over the village in Mexico or central America. Now that’s sad.
But it is corporations that do the exploiting, not official government policy, unlike China.

Now put your “Che” t-shirt and get some fresh chinese air.

May 6, 2007 @ 4:57 am | Comment

But it is corporations that do the exploiting, not official government policy, unlike China.

So that’s why our NIS only arrest, raiding the farms, the illegals right after the harvest…

Now put your “Che” t-shirt and get some fresh chinese air.

Sorry, I live in the sunny California (in the city call itself the most beautiful city in the US). And someone has calling me a neo-con hardly a socialist, and why I wan to wear a t-shirt from a idealist who kills thousands for no good reason just in the names of revolution (just ask some cubans).

May 6, 2007 @ 5:10 am | Comment

I would argue that here in the US, the government agencies that are supposed to protect us, have, in recent years, colluded with the large corporations to weaken product safety rules of all kinds. It takes this kind of incident to wake people up and demand that government regulatory agencies do their jobs again. But if the Democrats, for all their weaknesses, didn’t control Congress now, we would not have had the hearings and investigations that we are seeing now.

I’m hoping 2009 brings another step back towards sanity.

For all of our faults and the outright crimes our government has committed in recent years (e.g., Iraq), the American system is remarkably well-designed and resilient. That’s why things like Guantanamo are to me so heinous. The positive foundation of the United States is the rule of law. When we erode that, we are destroying what’s best about our country.

Okay, that went a little off topic, but I really do see all these issues as connected, so please forgive me.

May 6, 2007 @ 5:31 am | Comment

Related to this discussion, here is an excellent daily kos diary about poisoned Chinese medicine and the deliberate gutting of the FDA. It pulls a lot of these issues together.

If you can’t stand Daily Kos, here is a link to the NYT article and here is a link to the McClatchy piece. I do recommend you read the diary though. It has a lot of other great links.

May 6, 2007 @ 5:36 am | Comment

And here is the IHT article, China is the exporter of death and suffering:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/05/05/asia/web0505-toxic-46350.php

May 6, 2007 @ 9:05 am | Comment

Nan-etc., the IHT is the same as the NYT article – IHT is sort of like the NYT’s international version (I’ve never quite understood the relationship).

The IHT version is considerably shorter – it looks like a website glitch rather than an edit.

May 6, 2007 @ 9:15 am | Comment

Another problem is fake drugs. Either they don’t work or they are poisonous themseves. Chinese companies are very competetive in this buisness field, mostly poisoning their compatriots, but sometimes also others:
“A trail of poisoned medicine leads back to China”(http://tinyurl.com/3xe2er)

May 6, 2007 @ 6:27 pm | Comment

A related story in today’s NYT:

From China to Panama: A Trail of Poisoned Medicine

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/world/americas/06poison.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

Counterfeiters are substituting common medicinal sweetener glycerin with a cheaper, poisonous substance. Panama is the most recent victim with a reported 365 human deaths.

This is outrageous and scary.

May 6, 2007 @ 8:17 pm | Comment

A related story in today’s NYT:

From China to Panama: A Trail of Poisoned Medicine

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/world/americas/06poison.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

Chinese counterfeiters are substituting common medicinal sweetener glycerin with a cheaper, poisonous substance. Panama is the most recent victim with a reported 365 human deaths.

This is outrageous and scary.

May 6, 2007 @ 8:18 pm | Comment

I was buying a large bag of Winalot in Jenny Lou’s and was standing in the queue at the till. A woman behind me asked if I had a dog. On impulse, I told her that no, I was starting The Winalot Diet again, although I probably shouldn’t because I’d ended up in the hospital last time, but that I’d lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms. I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet and the way that it works is to load your trouser pockets with Winalot nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry & that the food is nutritionally complete so I was going to try it again.

I have to mention here that practically everyone in the queue was by now enthralled with my story, particularly a guy who was behind her. Horrified, she asked if I’d ended up in the hospital in that condition because I had been poisoned. I told her no, it was because I’d been sitting in the road licking my balls and a car hit me.

May 6, 2007 @ 9:30 pm | Comment

Now, a new story scarier than the pet food one:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/world/americas/06poison.html
Over 350 Panamanians are dead from poisoned
cough syrup. Deadly glycol syrup was shipped from China and fraudulently labelled as glycerin (a safe additive syrup), along with faked test results “confirming” it was 99.5% pure glycerin!

A Chinese middleman involved has been arrested, but the factories involved are still cranking out glycol and advertising online it as glycerin!

Interestingly, it was a glycol tainted
drugs scandal in the U.S. 70 years (100 were killed) ago that led to formation of the F.D.A.,
and product inspections and certifications.

Personally, I’ve stopped buying any foodstuffs manufactured in China because I don’t trust the ingredients. But a problem is many North American made foodstuffs have ingredients imported from China, but there’s no requirement the country of origin be listed on labels. So you never really know what you’re getting.

Buying prepared food or drugs off store shelves is turning into a game of Russian roulette.

The only safe way to consume anymore is to find an unpolluted piece of land somewhere and
consume only what you can grow and prepare yourself from scratch!

May 7, 2007 @ 8:18 am | Comment

Bob, I need to look this up but a quick note – there’s a new bill in Congress called COOL that requires Country Of Origin Labeling. Contact your Congress-critters. Not sure if it’s House or Senate.

May 7, 2007 @ 9:24 am | Comment

“Personally, I’ve stopped buying any foodstuffs manufactured in China because I don’t trust the ingredients. But a problem is many North American made foodstuffs have ingredients imported from China,”

You pretty much have to buy from a whole foods, vitamin cottage or other such local organic market, or your farmer’s market because even basic components of any processed food, sweetener or preservative are mass produced in China.

The CDC and FDA are investigating a correlation between an increase in allergies in the US and contaminated foodstuffs.

So this is the result of China’s rise?

May 7, 2007 @ 11:15 am | Comment

Lisa et al

Yes I am absolutely aghasted by the lengths or rather the short cuts that some Chinese companies are willing to resort to to make a quick buck. Remember the empty infant formula case. As I have suggested these perpretrators should be jailed and made to consume the milk they have produced only and die a slow and horrible dead.
But as for raw material use by US or other companies , the importer of those raw materials to be incorporated to the finished products i.e. the manufacturers bears some responsibility. Poisons and integrity in and of raw materials can be tested easily and it is the onus of the manufacturers to make sure the raw materials they use is up to standards by using of good surveyors and good quality controls.

I am sure those who import Chinese origin raw materials are also doing so because of the low cost hence are also it in for the buck. From my experience when you are buying something that is too low in cost compared with the prevailing market it comes with it a hidden cost. THe glycol and glycerin issue may be one of them

So we should also punish the importers/manufacturers that buy this stuff as they are not devoid of any blame

May 7, 2007 @ 3:16 pm | Comment

Flabbergasted, what you said is basically the point of my post. Ultimately the major portion of the responsibility lies on the people who manufacture the contaminated/counterfeit goods. But an economic system that has made it desirable for the US to import “cheap” goods without factoring in very real costs, in a country where the ruling party has slashed enforcement budgets and regulatory agencies, bears responsibility as well. Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware.

Still, I can’t say that both sides are equally to blame here. In any kind of business relationship, there has to be trust, and right now it seems that too many business in China aren’t trustworthy. The Chinese government absolutely has to step up to the plate here and vigorously enforce its own standards. Ultimately Chinese people are hurt by these practices far more than foreigners – it’s another instance where the government needs to serve the people, as it is supposed to do.

May 7, 2007 @ 4:02 pm | Comment

“Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware.”

Surely this is never more salient than when dealing with Chinese companies, and, on a larger scale, the Chinese government.

There is, in my opinion, a clear cultural difference in the way business is conducted in China that goes beyond ‘profit by any means,’ although money is certainly the bottom-line motivating factor.

To gain advantage by deception is generally considered morally irresponsible in the west. To a far greater extent, the same behaviour is considered acceptable business practice in China.

“It’s not just about pet food”

Absolutely right. The dog’s dinner is the tip of a very large iceberg.

May 7, 2007 @ 11:32 pm | Comment

Well worth a read on the science behind the melamine scare:

“How Two Innocuous Compounds Combined to Kill Pets”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/06/AR2007050601034.html

May 8, 2007 @ 12:25 am | Comment

Stuart, I don’t think it’s by any means universal – I do think there are plenty of honest businesses – but obviously there is a systemic problem here. I think a lot of the time it’s ignorance – the story of the poisoned medicine is illustrative of this – the guy wasn’t some educated scientist, he was a former tailor who tested his product by tasting it (!). Not that he wasn’t aware on some level that he was committing a fraud, but the attitude seemed to have been, as with the melamine, oh well, what harm will it do?

The story about the honey producer provides more examples of this kind of thinking, both of an honest businessman who cares about quality and others who provide inferior or even dangerous products, mostly due to ignorance.

Really, this is a case where the Central Government needs to put this on a par with some of their other massive infrastructure projects and build the sort of food safety and regulatory system that can get this under control.

It’s also a prime example of what happens when you don’t have government involvement in business. There are good reasons for regulations and regulatory agencies, regardless of libertarians’ dreams of unfettered capitalism.

We need our own enforcement agencies refunded and beefed up here in the US as well. We had a system that worked pretty well, until Grover Norquist’s acolytes began their project of drowning the government in a metaphoric bathtub (I’m paraphrasing a famous Norquist quote).

May 8, 2007 @ 1:28 am | Comment

Well I hope that bill that otherlisa mentions gets passed, the one that would require countries of origin of all ingredients to be listed on labels.

I live in Canada and I’m not aware such a bill is in the works here yet. Certainly the issues surrounding the pet food scandal have been receiving lots of airing in the media. Pet food maker Menu Foods that was the primary co. involved is based in Toronto. I must write my member of Parliament.

I agree with the idea mentioned of buying from reputable organic foods suppliers.
These imported ingredients scandals provide yet another reason for trying to eat locally (e.g. the “100 mile diet”). The main benefit stated up till now is that eating locally lowers transportation costs, energy use and CO2 emissions.

I feel pessimistic about the Chinese gov’t being able to get control of these problems any time soon. A major obstacle is that a culture of corruption is apparently so rampant, that businessmen wanting to skirt regs. typically just need to bribe local gov’t officials, who are frequently all too eager to accept bribes.

The corruption cases that do get prosecuted in China are few, no doubt drops in the bucket. Chances of prosecution remain slim, leaving little disincentive to commit such frauds.

Now I’m concerned about the vitamins and supplements I take, ’cause most of them originate from Chinese factories, so I’ve read.

May 8, 2007 @ 2:14 am | Comment

“A major obstacle is that a culture of corruption is apparently so rampant, that businessmen wanting to skirt regs. typically just need to bribe local gov’t officials, who are frequently all too eager to accept bribes.”

It isn’t just corruption. The police and inspectors are paid such pathetic salaries that bribes are almost a necessity to keep bellies full and pay for the one child’s tuition at the best affordable school.
The spirit of public service is crushed by economic necessity, yet Beijing would rather build the “crush Taiwan and humiliate Japan/US” force than up salaries. Salary raises in the US have proven to be a very effective way to limit corruption.

For those inspectors and police officers who have a very strong spirit of public service, factory bosses and local/regional party members resort to threats and violence to protect their evil ways.

May 8, 2007 @ 4:11 am | Comment

By the way, can I remind everyone to either make HTML links or use tinyurl.com to make shorter links? You’ll note that the page width here gets stretched to accommodate the length of the link. This isn’t too bad so I’m not going to go in and edit it.

thanks!

May 8, 2007 @ 4:20 am | Comment

“http://www.indiadaily.com/editorial/16682.asp”

Chinese Military 12 miles inside Indian terrirory in Arunachal Pradesh?

Arunachal CM denies but facts point otherwise
Media Release
May 7, 2007

The Arunachal Pradesh government on Monday denied reports of any Chinese incursion into the frontier north-eastern state.

“There is absolutely no truth in the reports of any Chinese intrusion. The allegations were unfounded,” Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu said.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Lok Sabha MP from Arunachal Pradesh, Khiren Rijiju, had been quoted as saying that China had moved 20 km inside Arunachal Pradesh.

“There has been a Chinese incursion in our country particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. I have written to the government of India and raised the issue in parliament. The government of India is not accepting the incursion openly. But defence personnel do acknowledge that this is happening and the Chinese are occupying our land,” Rijiju was quoted as saying by the media on Monday.

May 8, 2007 @ 5:21 am | Comment

It really funny how people complaint when Chinese food products are tinted while still living on the illusion that somehow american products are any better.

Do we even pay attention to the crap load of chemical in our food now? Remeber the Sudan 1 dyes and the nitrates we’ve been injecting our meat products or the growth hormones in our food and what do people think of ingesting antibiotics along with the beef?

The chinese pet feed troubles are only a sting of many that existis in our system. Its the system that need to be delt with, both in the US and China.

It’s never about China bad and America good but rally the question of stringent business practice and the ineffectiveness of the government to regulate that process.

May 8, 2007 @ 6:06 am | Comment

Maomao, I have made that point repeatedly in both the post and my comments. However, it’s clear that China has a longer way to go in constructing a regulatory system that protects its people, and no amount of bringing out the US system’s deficiencies (as I have) can disguise that fact.

May 8, 2007 @ 6:08 am | Comment

“So this is the result of China’s rise?”

No stupid, it’s a sad effect of CCP. Yes, we all know that throughout history food quality goes DOWN as the nation industrializes!

Even you aren’t that retarded. Hopefully international concern will whip them into shape faster.

May 8, 2007 @ 10:30 am | Comment

ferins:

I wouldn’t say food quality was all that great in the pre-industrial period as simple pathogen contamination was frequent and the water quality differed greatly from place to place. Food science knowledge back then was non-existent, so parasitic infections were common, as they are in developing countries today.

International concern will be tempered by MNC outsourcing focus on profit.

May 8, 2007 @ 11:12 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.