NYT: Poisoned toothpaste comes from China

Yikes. What next?

Diethylene glycol, a poisonous ingredient in some antifreeze, has been found in 6,000 tubes of toothpaste in Panama, and customs officials there said yesterday that the product appeared to have originated in China.

‘Our preliminary information is that it came from China, but we don’t know that with certainty yet,’ said Daniel Delgado Diamante, Panama’s director of customs. ‘We are still checking all the possible imports to see if there could be other shipments.’

Some of the toothpaste, which arrived several months ago in the free trade zone next to the Panama Canal, was re-exported to the Dominican Republic in seven shipments, customs officials said. A newspaper in Australia reported yesterday that one brand of the toothpaste had been found on supermarket shelves there and had been recalled.

Bad timing, so close to the pet food scandal. This is about to get serious, according to my well-informed sources. One reader, in response to the earlier threads on the poisoned pet food, just sent me an email, before I saw this new story:

This story is escalating and so is opposition to food additives from China. Crackpot Chronicles is following the story in the media. Reports cite examples like:

-Many consumers have…told pet food makers that they want goods that are free of any ingredients from China, according to the Pet Food Institute. (NYT)

-As the recall of tainted pet food mushroomed into an international scandal, two of the largest U.S. food manufacturers [Mission Foods Corp. and Tyson Foods Inc] put out a blanket order to their American suppliers: No more ingredients from China. (L.A. Times)-
The stories inevitably go on to say that such bans are next to impossible, because imported additives are ubiquitous and corporate food interests are heavily invested in their use, however:

* The “Green” movement, currently ultra-chic, encourages a “buy local” policy.
* Consumers themselves are objecting–a groundswell difficult to dodge.
* The fallout and backlash are aggregating

Wu Yi, Vice Premier of China is coming to Washington next week for trade discussions. Let’s hope she gets an earful about this.

But even if government posits an objection and promises to investigate the matter are given, this is unlikely to yield any timely remedy given the historical pace of regulatory reforms. Temporary sanctions might be the best approach, but considering the capital investment imported third-world food additives represent, that will probably be sidestepped.
Continuing informed objection by consumers, blogs and non-aligned public agencies will probably provide the legislative tipping point. The PR tipping point, I believe has been reached.

This is truly an outrage, but it is bipartisan. I doubt US corporate food interests knowingly import adulterated product, but they can be expected to drag their feet regulating it.
Let’s keep the pressure on this issue.

Read her entire post, which now seems almost preternaturally prescient.

______________

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: 74 Comments

Being a “rightist”, I read WSJ and FT far more than NYT. Ever since Jayson Blair and Judith Miller, NYT in my mind falls to a level similar to Washington Times.

Give me unadulterated facts and figures, and please don’t mix with your opinions.

Can we wait until the event has been confirmed, and the other side’s story has been heard, before we start making judgments?

May 20, 2007 @ 2:25 am | Comment

Hey, I think I get some points for prescience too.

Okay, JXie, here’s another story for you from the LA Times:

China’s additives on menu

May 20, 2007 @ 2:29 am | Comment

“…almost preternaturally prescient.”

Is that phrase at all legal, anywhere in the world, or in the English language?

haha:)

May 20, 2007 @ 2:38 am | Comment

I think the food industry in China should be more strictly regulated, even in the expense of being boycotted.

May 20, 2007 @ 2:41 am | Comment

Yes, because for all the people (and pets) outside of China who have died or gotten sick, the toll inside China is undoubtedly many degrees magnitude worse.

And in any case, buying and eating locally is a good idea on many levels.

May 20, 2007 @ 2:48 am | Comment

China needs an Upton Sinclair about now. Unfortunately, he’d probably end up in jail, though.

May 20, 2007 @ 3:22 am | Comment

Here’s another diethyl glycol contamination case involving China and Panama, with hundreds of resulting deaths:

Link.

The Panamanian government made cough syrup for public health distribution with ‘pharmaceutical grade glycerin’ from China that in fact contained diethyl glycol.

May 20, 2007 @ 3:30 am | Comment

schticky, hot links and tinyurl.com are your (and our) friend – a long link like this breaks the comment frame. I’m going to fix.

May 20, 2007 @ 3:34 am | Comment

Lisa, I beat you to it. :-)

May 20, 2007 @ 3:36 am | Comment

Oops, I think Richard beat me to it! It’s a great, horrible story, in any case.

May 20, 2007 @ 3:36 am | Comment

You not only beat me to it, you beat me to the comment!

May 20, 2007 @ 3:47 am | Comment

I always wonder about the quality of the foods and other goods I consume in China – not least because my, uh, the product of my, uh excretory system is never quite as solid as it is when I am in the US.

May 20, 2007 @ 9:22 am | Comment

There’s also another bird flu outbreak in China -_-

May 20, 2007 @ 9:33 am | Comment

Bear in mind it’s estimated that in the US each year up to 5000 people die of food poisoning, so far (*knock on wood*) nobody in the US has died of taking food produced in China yet.

Anyway, I am done with arguing. Let me give you a story.

Not too long ago I found myself defending the US in front of some of my Brazilian friends. In a casual gathering, a young pretty Brazilian girl asked me, “why are Americans killing us?” Now where did that come from? What she meant was the accident that a private jet piloted by a couple of American pilots had a mid-air collision with a Gol passenger airplane and caused some 100 deaths. Befuddled, I started explaining to her that it was simply a case of miscommunication between the American pilots and ground air controllers. Purposely hitting another plane in the mid-air was akin to suicide. I got the strangest reply, “you are Chinese and you are peaceful. You don’t know how evil these Americans are. They think we are too close to Chavez and they want to warn us that they can kill us.”

Why she said that? Maybe because the footages on TV that Iraqi mothers crying over their charred babies, which are filtered out by self-censored media in the US? Maybe because of the Abu Ghrail images? Maybe because after the US required Brazilians (as many other people) to provide fingerprints before entering the US, Brazil started requiring Americans (only Americans) to provide fingerprints, and some Americans gave middle finger to Brazilian customs officers? Maybe because at one hand the US champions free trade and globalization when it fits itself, and shuts off Brazilian farm exports with all kinds of phony excuses?

On the other hand, the China she knew was the Chinese delegates with hats in hands signing all sorts of trade agreements, taking large quantity of Brazilian exports and fueling the rapid Brazilian economy growth and the appreciating currency?

Sometimes I get a good chuckle reading Beijing and “international opinions” here. Most here probably don’t realize the “international opinions” are often opinions of some extreme minority in the world.

May 20, 2007 @ 11:27 am | Comment

Why the fuck do they let people get away with this? It doesn’t even fucking make money, the country as a whole just loses a ton of money because bad businessmen are murdering people.

This is not the way to sustain trade; I hope those running the factory are executed and organ harvested all the way down to the management.

May 20, 2007 @ 12:13 pm | Comment

Ferins,

It may not be the factories but rather the middlemen who changed from industrial chemicals to food additives. I am with you that if this caused any deaths, being them in China or in other countries, capital punishments should be allowed.

However, NYT is known for its creative journalism. Neither the US FDA nor Panamanian officials have pinned the offended chemical to sources from China. A google search with -”New York Times” returns no link to China. I think NYT ought to do the right thing to turn their evident over to the appropriate officials.

May 20, 2007 @ 12:54 pm | Comment

Disinformation, JXie.

Read the well sourced NYT article on the glycerin import…or the wheat gluten to the dogfood, or the malachite green to HK.

You also mention food poisoning in the US. Yes people die all the time from it. Undercooked food and the eating of spoiled food will do tat. What is a major problem with China is the adulteration and fraud of food products. The glycerin is not what it appears(actually, its poison to you but we label it as candy). The wheat gluten was pumped full of nitrogen adding chemicals to fool idustrial food purchasers into thinking it had more protein than it did. This fraud s horrible, but it does happen almost anywhere.

What is dispicable is the CCPs silence and obfucation in these matters. But what can you expect from an org. that silences the spreading of info that might save its own citizens? (See the suppression of th big head baby story in Anhui, the Songjiang chem dump, the AIDS tainted blood collections, etc)

May 20, 2007 @ 1:49 pm | Comment

JXie, last Thursday’s issue of Southern Weekly ran a front-page, above the fold headline reading “毒糖浆巴拿马致死百人——原料来自中国” – “Poisoned syrup kills one hunderd in Panama; raw materials come from China”. The story quotes a Chinese official (Shen Chen, with the drug administration) who pins the source to China “这个东西确实来源于中国.” Although at the same time, Shen denies responsibility by citing the American FDA’s conclusions, and according to the article, both China’s drug administration and the Spanish import-export company blame the Panamanian side for not performing adequate tests.

May 20, 2007 @ 2:00 pm | Comment

Peterpaul, my comment is in specific addressing the Panama toxic cough syrup & toothpastes containing diethylene glycol. In Panama there have been human deaths caused by those.

May 20, 2007 @ 2:06 pm | Comment

Zhwj, OK. Obviously I limited my search to only English sources.

The criminal act is the one who actually converted from industrial usage to human usage. I want to know if that’s a Chinese party.

May 20, 2007 @ 2:12 pm | Comment

Imagine that – Jxie sees a post about poisonous toothpaste exported from China and somehow “counters” by bringing up food poisoning in the US. Yes, there are obvious parallels. And we did something bad in Brazil. So the fact that China’s exporting various poisoned food prodcuts to the international marketplace doesn’t bother him a bit. Heck, America does bad things, too. Why are we talking about Chinese toothpaste?

May 20, 2007 @ 2:16 pm | Comment

“However, NYT is known for its creative journalism.”

What, pray tell, are CD known for?

May 20, 2007 @ 2:31 pm | Comment

Richard, it does bother me, a lot. What I am having issue with is blaming everything on China.

I gave you the Brazil example to give you a different perspective in this image thing. I strongly disagreed with that Brazilian girl’s conclusion that those 2 American pilots purposely killed 155 Brazilian passengers by inducing a mid-air collision. However, be aware that some of the conclusions drawn here aren’t much different than hers.

May 20, 2007 @ 2:33 pm | Comment

BTW, Richard, the toothpaste wasn’t exported from China. A chemical component in the toothpaste is from China, and it was originally meant for industrial usage. Get the facts right, please.

May 20, 2007 @ 2:37 pm | Comment

Whatever. Whether the chemical or the additive or the product came from China, the country is in the spotlight for bad exports. That could pose a serious problem. I don’t blame everything on China. But there have been many, many cases of bad or fake products sold within China killing or hurting people, and now the problem is crossing the borders. Whether this is the fault of “China” or some bad Chinese businesspeople or whomever, it is a serious problem that could very soon result in major repercussions The reason, perhaps, why so many “blame China” is because this sort of scandal has plagued the country before, and China seems to be the place where this sort of crime is an everyday occurrence. The country’s famously lax system that encourages fakes is now biting the country back, and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. I may be wrong, but we’ll see, won’t we?

May 20, 2007 @ 3:24 pm | Comment

The front page of this morning’s WaPo featured a story on Chinese food imports rejected for containing banned toxic substances:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/19/AR2007051901273.html?hpid=topnews

May 20, 2007 @ 9:42 pm | Comment

richard and other lisa,

thanks for your help.

JXie,

keep digging. perhaps your energy could be better spent petitioning the chinese authorities to get their regulatory house in order.

May 20, 2007 @ 10:32 pm | Comment

Whatever. Whether the chemical or the additive or the product came from China, the country is in the spotlight for bad exports.

It is the difference between you and me, isn’t is? I want to find out in the whole truth, and see which step people screwed up — it could’ve easily been some Spanish/Panamanians decided to use industrial-grade chemicals in human products. Through this truth-searching process hopefully the similar events won’t happen again. I have no illusion that the guilty middlemen can be Chinese. But let’s find out, shall we?

On the other hand, you seem to be perfectly happy that there is yet another scandal and China is in it.

This is your web site and it’s your prerogative to run it however you see fit. I am just passing by and giving my two cents.

keep digging. perhaps your energy could be better spent petitioning the chinese authorities to get their regulatory house in order.

Which part of the regulatory house? Doesn’t finding it out require some digging?

May 20, 2007 @ 11:34 pm | Comment

Yeah, that’s the difference between you and me all right. You see this story and talk about food poisoning in America. Murders, real or imagined, in Brazil. Automatically. Sorry if I slipped up and referred to a chemical as a product, or whatever it is you are trying to seize on. Keep digging, as schticky says. I am not happy there is a scandal in China. But I write about China, and this story is now dominating all the headlines. A soon as I hear about how China did not export poison toothpaste or poison chemicals that went into toothpaste or poisoned wheat gluten or whatever – as soon as I hear this was a mistake, I will be the first to put it up here. The minute I hear it was Spain or somewhere else, I’ll put it up. Tragically, Chinese “entrepreneurs” have a protracted history of taking expedient steps to move product’s to market, even if they kill babies along the way or poison people’s pets. So when I read these reports in the Times, a newspaper for which I used to work and which still has the best track record of any newspaper in the country if not the world, even with the Jayson Blair scandal, I don’t take it lightly. There is no reason to believe the paper is being “creative” and lying about this, yet that was your immediate reaction – the NYT makes things up! No. Like every media they may get some things wrong, but their track record is extraordinary, and I tend to believe their reports far more than the musings of someone whose mind veers knee-jerk-like from poisoned exports from China to bacterial food poisoning in the US.

Keep digging.

May 21, 2007 @ 12:00 am | Comment

Richard, that one liner and smiley face are so totally coo.

Jayson Blair and Judith Miller… Next time I will give you a blow-by-blow rundown on how an event is reported by NYT, compared to other sources and why I am having issue with it. As a reader, I want the whole facts and the correct figures, not selective facts and figures mixed with opinions that fit editors’s worldviews. WSJ does have opinion pieces that I wildly disagree with, but I trust their news reporting far better than NYT.

How’s it difficult to see my point of the Brazil example? I was defending those 2 American pilots. In my mind, they are making a good living and have wives and kids back home, why would they purposely kill some Brazilians and risk their lives. When the US has a bad rap among Brazilians, especially young Brazilians, this kind of logical reasoning just doesn’t matter any more.

The same can apply here. You practically hung those factory owners/managers without even knowing all the facts. You know, they probably have wives and kids back home too. Do they deserve a fair chance?

May 21, 2007 @ 2:30 am | Comment

Oh for gods sakes JXie, this argument is beneath you. You can’t possibly deny that China has huge, systematic problems in its food safety and food additive manufacture and regulatory system. What the f*** does that have to do with pilot error in Brazil? That is the most specious thing I’ve heard in a long time. Please give me a break.

The fact of the matter is for all the people who have suffered from contaminated Chinese exports, those numbers pale next to the number of Chinese people who have been affected by this. How can you make these sorts of excuses and false equivalencies when it’s Chinese who have suffered the most from it?

Read the WaPo article Sonagi links to – it’s horrific.

As an American what horrifies me the most is the laxness in our own regulatory system (not to mention the long-term downside of importing food products, since I am an “eat locally” advocate), and how the years of Republican regimes have gutted the agencies that are supposed to be watching out for us.

May 21, 2007 @ 7:35 am | Comment

Otherlisa, with all due respect, you need to stop arguing with a strawman. Not for a second I deny China has huge food safety issues. Had you read all what I wrote instead assumed what I argued, you wouldn’t even bring this up. I asked specifically to wait before making a judgment on who is at fault in causing human deaths in Panama, by now the only known incident outside of China causing human deaths. You can’t just hang the Taixing chemical factory because they are a Chinese factory. These people have families and kids too.

If by now you still can’t understand why I brought the Brazil story up, I give up. You are simply blocking it. You know, we were given 2 ears but only 1 mouth.

May 21, 2007 @ 8:17 am | Comment

I don’t understand why you brought it up, JXie. I really don’t.

The fake glycerin story looks to be pretty well-documented. The problem with the sorts of food contamination problems that the WaPo article addresses is that these things may not kill you outright but can cause a lot of long term problems in the future.

I agree that there are plenty of legitimate companies in China doing quality work. The problem is, what screens out the fly-by-night businessmen who simply open up their doors without any of the authorization they are supposed to have under China’s own laws?

This is a systematic problem, not a question of a few “bad apples.”

May 21, 2007 @ 8:30 am | Comment

Here is my reasoning of wanting to wait for a more thorough investigation before jumping to the conclusion:

If the operation of labeling diethylene glycol as glycerin originated in China by some middlemen or the factories, chances are we should’ve seen more deaths, not just in Panama.

Maybe *heaven forbids* we will see more deaths elsewhere, or maybe it was a human mistake only applicable to the path leading to Panama, or maybe somebody in Panama was at fault…

Anyway let’s find out the truths and stop the similar incident from happening again. If NYT has some great information, hand over to the authorities.

May 21, 2007 @ 8:44 am | Comment

Otherlisa, about the Brazil story. Let me rehash it again:

Due to a host of reasons, the US has a very poor image among many Brazilians, especially young Brazilians. When there was a mid-air collision causing 155 deaths, many Brazilians automatically assume those 2 American pilots were at fault, with evil intent.

Many here and some American news outlets are doing the same thing: they assume the Chinese parties are always at fault simply because of China’s poor food safety record. Let’s seek all the truths instead of posturing. The problems can be fixed if we find the root causes, instead of falling back to same old comfortable position: China sucks.

May 21, 2007 @ 8:55 am | Comment

No one says China sucks. Some “businesspeople” there suck big time. Like I said, I’ll correct this post if it’s wrong. The NYT ran an entire series of articles exposing Blair’s and Judy Miller’s BS. Now, for a newspaper putting out thousands of stories a year, those stand out as extreme exceptions and both reporters are gone. If this story is disproven, again, I’ll say so. Meanwile, I have my sources I tend to trust. If this was Epoch Times I would not have posted it. Or China Daily. If the story were total rubbish I’d expect China to have denied it by now. We’ll see. Anyway, this is getting really tiresome.

May 21, 2007 @ 9:12 am | Comment

Otherlisa, I read the WaPo report word by word. Black people love to joke that only when a murder suspect is black, they put out the picture to A1 section to send a subtle message. So they develop a special sense to spot those subtle messages.

Here comes the way I read the WaPo report:

* First, you ought to be able to tell that “dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical”, “frozen catfish laden with banned antibiotics” are meant to solicit human emotion more than anything. What kind of food imports do they reject from Canada? Coffee cakes with human pubic hairs in it?

* OK, “the rejection rate for foods imported from China, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, is more than 25 times that for Canada.” What are the ratios for other countries? I actually went through the trouble to computer the numbers for India & Mexico, and you know what? China doesn’t do that badly compared to the other two. It seems to me #1. foods from developed nations are safer. #2. people in developing nations are living dangerously. NO SHIT.

* This line gets me big time, “In the past year, USDA teams have seized hundreds of thousands of pounds of prohibited poultry products from China and other Asian countries.”

We are talking about China only, aren’t we? Now there are 2 possibilities: #1 you know the country breakdown numbers but you opt for including “other Asian countries” to make a better point than the reality. F**k. #2 you don’t know the country breakdown numbers. Now as a good journalist, either find them out or drop it altogether.

May 21, 2007 @ 10:09 am | Comment

JXie, all I have to say is, that NYT story was very convincing, and it also does not seem out of place with the other evidence that’s out there regarding serious quality control issues in China’s food production.

And as has been noted here and elsewhere (for example, in the WaPo article Sonagi mentions), the Chinese government is taking this very seriously, so they seem to feel it has some legitimacy.

I can’t believe that I have to trot out my “friend of China” credentials here – again. There are so many positives in China. I love being there and I want the country to do well. But I can’t see the point in denying problems when all empirical evidence supports their existence.

May 21, 2007 @ 10:22 am | Comment

@JXie

A major part of that article, which I think you missed, points out that “[f]or a growing number of important food products, China has become virtually the only source in the world.” This isn’t simply an issue of developing vs. developed countries but an issue of food safety. Since China is the major supplier of some food products, the lack of standards ,which characterize Chinese industry, harms American’s health.

Now, I don’t know how Chinese standards compare to other developing countries but I think a fair compromise would be for Chinese and other developing countries food importers pay an extra fee for extra inspections. The Chinese companies could then pass the charge on to American consumers. Everyone would be happy. Americans would be safer because of the more stringent safety standards and Chinese food importers would have access to American markets.

May 21, 2007 @ 10:33 am | Comment

There was a case of food poisoning in Luxemburg last year.

May 21, 2007 @ 11:35 am | Comment

Perhaps even two.

May 21, 2007 @ 12:20 pm | Comment

“China needs an Upton Sinclair about now. Unfortunately, he’d probably end up in jail, though.
Posted by: 88 at May 20, 2007 03:22 AM”

Jail? Too light, labor and organ harvesting with the ef el gee.

Beyond tainted basic processed food ingredients, China has long been introducing mercury and lead from its thrown-together coal plants into our seafood, just ask your doctor.

And it only gets better, Chrysler wants to outsource complete vehicle manufacturing from China. Can’t wait to see those sporters take tight corners or get into fender benders.

otherlisa; the comment you scorn is now officially well deserved:

bad, bad China.

May 21, 2007 @ 2:58 pm | Comment

Sorry, Nan-H, I still think it’s a silly thing to say.

May 21, 2007 @ 3:36 pm | Comment

What Lisa said.

May 21, 2007 @ 3:50 pm | Comment

“As an American what horrifies me the most is the laxness in our own regulatory system (not to mention the long-term downside of importing food products, since I am an “eat locally” advocate), and how the years of Republican regimes have gutted the agencies that are supposed to be watching out for us.”

Right here I think Otherlisa gets closer to the real issue in this unfolding debacle, which has been largely overlooked or gone unsaid. How have countries like the US (and most likely Canada, where I reside) managed to get themselves in such a bind, where even the basics for many food products are now shipped from the Export Kingdom halfway across the ocean? Has our slavish devotion to the religion of “cheap at all costs” finally evolved into a state of full-blown mania?

In these instances it’s always easiest to blame China, but I don’t know if that is fair. Chinese businessmen are going to do what they’re going to do particularly in a context largely devoid of regulatory controls, environmental laws, etc. It’s another reality, and let’s be honest one where the health and welfare of citizens doesn’t always come very high on the priority list.

Instead, the blame should largely be leveled at those of us who have allowed such a convoluted and extended food production process to emerge that it would seem some companies aren’t even aware of the origin of basic ingredients. And c’mon, anyone who has spent more than ten minutes in China not involving a boardroom in Shanghai could tell you the place has serious, serious issues with quality control, unscrupulous practices and environmental conditions (to the point where the land is, for all intents and purposes, generally toxic).

What we are seeing here is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg, the first widely publicized consequences of our drunken love affair with Chinese exports as we wake up groggy and confused the next day. The extent to which we are blinded by greed and the lures of low cost is almost embarrassing, and in these instances we are culpable in our complacency. Who would have thought there is actually a reason so many products from China are so cheap?

May 21, 2007 @ 8:53 pm | Comment

Patrick, this is exactly why I’ve said from day one that the repercussions from such scandals could shake China to the core. They could get away with it at home; you can’t get away with it in most developed countries. The ability to sue, and the presence of inspectors who actually do inspections makes a big difference. As do journalists like the aforementioned Upton Sinclair. Until China has safeguards like these in place, I’m afraid the world will look far more cautiously at the Made in China sticker. A shame, a tragedy. But what goes around really does come around. Shit floats upstream (any other cliches I can throw in?). China’s going to learn a painful lesson from this, and lets hope it can fix the crisis before it worsens.

May 21, 2007 @ 9:30 pm | Comment

“and how the years of Republican regimes have gutted the agencies that are supposed to be watching out for us.”"

Both the Democrats and Republicans have worked hard to appease China on behalf of MNCs wishing to do business there. The Chinese are at fault for being reckless, corrupt and dirty and we are at fault for letting their crap into our borders and our bodies.

A wise TV show called “south park” had an episode about Wal-Mart. The only way the WM matrix could be destroyed was to smash the “heart” of the system, which was a mirror. Because we are the problem with buying things that are cheap.
It’s time to smash the heart of the “buy cheap products” matrix and throw all of China’s low quality, highly toxic garbage into a highly efficient incinerator.

Trade with China is a lose-lose situation. We lose because the CCP and PLA gain more power and wealth and we lose because we are poisoning ourselves on their crap.

May 22, 2007 @ 1:01 am | Comment

“What are the ratios for other countries? I actually went through the trouble to computer the numbers for India & Mexico, and you know what? China doesn’t do that badly compared to the other two.”

Could you please share the information and sources with us, JXie?

May 22, 2007 @ 6:23 am | Comment

And since you’re a fan of the WSJ, JXie:

Who’s Monitoring Chinese Food Exports?

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117608207682763704.html

May 22, 2007 @ 6:33 am | Comment

“It’s time to smash the heart of the “buy cheap products” matrix and throw all of China’s low quality, highly toxic garbage into a highly efficient incinerator.”

And keep your ipods, laptops, and other cheap stuff from China that works fine?

Otherwise, America can kiss her ass goodbye once China dumps 1.2 trillion USD, Japan, Korea and other potential bag-holders jump ship, and OPEC switches to petro-euros or petro-ACUs.

But my parents have never bought any food items from China and don’t let their friends do it either.

May 22, 2007 @ 6:44 am | Comment

Only subscribers can access the full article. I will cut and paste it here so that everyone can read.

Who’s Monitoring Chinese Food Exports?

Nicholas Zamiska
The Wall Street Journal, 13 April 2007

HONG KONG — Tainted foods from China are becoming a growing problem as the country plays a greater part in the global food chain. Chemical use is high, regulations are lax, and while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the authority to check imports for contaminants that are in violation of U.S. law, it is able to physically inspect only a small fraction of them.

Late last month, the FDA said it had traced the culprit in the deaths of more than a dozen cats and dogs in the U.S. to contaminated wheat gluten produced thousands of miles away in Jiangsu province, China. The wheat gluten ended up in pet foods sold in stores across America run by Kroger Co., Safeway Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and others. It is far from clear how many pets have been affected, but the number could rise. The FDA says it has received more than 10,000 complaints.

The Chinese wheat gluten was contaminated by an industrial chemical called melamine, which is used to make plastics, glue and fire retardants but is also used as a fertilizer in Asia, according to the FDA. It may have led to kidney failure in the animals, although the FDA says it isn’t yet certain how exactly the pets died. The Chinese company, Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., has denied shipping wheat gluten to the U.S.

Contaminated foods from China have shown up overseas before. In 2002, frozen spinach shipped to Japan was found to have high levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Late last year, Hong Kong health officials halted imports of turbot from mainland China that contained a banned substance called malachite green, an antifungal agent that may cause cancer.

Over the years, foreign governments have also found and rejected Chinese exports of honey containing the antibiotic chloramphenicol, crushed peppers with pesticides and seafood contaminated with veterinary drugs, to name only a few examples, according to Helen Jensen, professor of economics who works on food safety issues and international trade at Iowa State University. The pet-food case, she says, shows how, as the food system has become global in sourcing, “we’re vulnerable to what goes on throughout the world.”

China’s contamination problems stem in large part from its loose regulations and highly fragmented food production. Hundreds of millions of small farmers grow its food, and they rely heavily on chemicals to coax production out of intensively cultivated soils and to fight pests.

The result: “China has one of the world’s highest rates of chemical fertilizer use per hectare, and Chinese farmers use many highly toxic pesticides, including some that are banned in the United States,” according to a report published last November by the economic-research service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More than a dozen government agencies are responsible for ensuring the safety of China’s food supply, and coordination and communication among them is a often a problem, notes Henk Bekedam, the World Health Organization’s chief representative in China. “Despite many efforts, food regulations and standards have been developed in an ad hoc way without the benefit of a basic food law,” he adds.

The FDA has the power to stop shipments at the border and collect samples and test for certain contaminants that may be in violation of U.S. regulations. Last month, it refused 215 shipments from mainland China for various reasons. A shipment of dried red dates from Chongqing was considered filthy, frozen swordfish from Shandong contained a poisonous substance and ginseng from Changsha had unsafe pesticides.

But the food shipments that get tested are the exception, not the rule. “The volume of food imports from overseas is approaching 10 million per year, and the number that FDA inspectors physically examine is in the single digit thousands — making it virtually certain that any given food shipment will enter the United States with no FDA inspection,” William Hubbard, a retired associate commissioner of the FDA, said in Senate testimony in July 2006. “I could provide many more similar statistics, all of which paint a picture of an FDA regulatory structure that is under-resourced, understaffed and essentially incapable of meeting” many of its responsibilities on ensuring food safety.

In many cases, the burden of ensuring that food shipped out of China is safe falls on the foreign buyers, who negotiate with Chinese producers over what quality standards the food must meet.

A spate of poisoning cases in China has forced the government to publicly address the problem at home, even though it is unclear how much progress has been made towards improving safety. One of the most high-profile incidents occurred in 2004, when more than a dozen infants died after their mothers unknowingly fed them fake milk powder that had little or no nutritional value. Chinese television stations broadcast images of sick and dead babies that were fed the counterfeit formula.

Last November, Chinese authorities found that poultry farmers in Hebei province were adding Sudan B, a cancer-causing red dye used in industrial manufacturing, to the feed of their ducks. The dye caused the ducks to lay eggs with a reddish yolks instead of yellow ones, fetching a higher price.

“Food safety is a problem for China,” says Mao Qunan, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Health in Beijing. However, he adds that “So many times the media says the problem is so big, so huge. But I don’t agree with these comments on the safety of the food.”

In 2005, the Ministry of Health reported that 9,021 people were stricken by food poisoning, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Of the 235 deaths that year, around half were caused by poisonous chemicals in the food. The rest were from bacterial contamination and other causes.

But those numbers may understate the problem because it is often difficult to pinpoint the cause of such illnesses in rural China. At least 300 million people are estimated to be affected by food-borne disease in China each year, according to Mr. Bekedam of the WHO. The WHO estimates that food-borne disease costs China between $4.7 billion and $14.0 billion a year in medical-care expenses and loss of productivity.

Meanwhile, China’s food problems are becoming the world’s problems, as agriculture exports surge. As of last year, China accounted for about 12% of global trade in fruits and vegetables, challenging U.S. producers in three main areas, including apple juice, fresh apples and fresh vegetables, according to a USDA report published last year. The U.S. is China’s largest market for exports of apple juice. China’s agricultural exports to the U.S. have soared over the past three decades, rising to $2.26 billion in 2006 from $133 million in 1980, according to the USDA.

The current problems with pet foods began in mid-March. Ontario-based Menu Foods Inc., which produces major brands like Eukanuba and Iams, recalled its “cuts and gravy” style pet food in cans and pouches after receiving information that pets that ate the product had fallen ill. The recall was later extended to more products. Within nearly a week of the recall, the company received complaints or expressions of concern from about 200,000 consumers.

The FDA suggested that ChemNutra Inc., a Las Vegas-based supplier of wheat gluten to Menu Foods, had received contaminated gluten from Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. in Jiangsu. The U.S. government halted shipments of wheat gluten to ChemNutra and is now requiring that all shipments of wheat gluten from China be scrutinized.

China is carrying out a nationwide inspection on the quality of its wheat gluten, a report from state-run Xinhua news agency said Friday.

A manager of Xuzhou Anying, surnamed Mao, told Reuters last week that his company never sold any wheat gluten to the U.S. “I don’t understand how come they are blaming us,” he said. But when representatives from ChemNutra met with Mr. Mao on March 31 in China to discuss the alleged contamination, he “was apologetic and embarrassed and promised to do an investigation,” said a person familiar with the matter. This person said that the wheat gluten was shipped through an intermediary before arriving in the U.S.

Reached at the company on Friday, a manager who gave his name as Mao Lijun, who may or may not have been the same Mr. Mao, said that he was busy and hung up his phone when asked about the allegations.

Wheat gluten — a mixture to two proteins — is used as a thickening agent in pet food gravy and is in many products for humans, from cereals to pasta. Exports from China have been brisk, with demand exceeding supply this year, according to Li Wenxin, sales manager at Qingdao Wansheng Chemical Co., a trading company in Shandong province that exports wheat gluten to several countries, including Australia, India, Italy and Russia. The FDA says there is no evidence that any of the wheat gluten imported from Xuzhou Anying Biologic has entered the human food supply.

Marc Ullman, a lawyer for ChemNutra, said that at this point, it is still not completely clear how the wheat gluten became contaminated. The wheat gluten that was imported from China wasn’t tested for melamine, and testing for the chemical isn’t routinely done in the industry, he said. “There’s no way to test every container of food for every potential toxin coming into the United States.”

May 22, 2007 @ 6:45 am | Comment

“Otherwise, America can kiss her ass goodbye once China dumps 1.2 trillion USD”

And so can China, which is heavily dependent on the US for exports. The EU is shifting its outsourcing to eastern europe.

Oh yeah, will China die from thirst or poisoning first?

May 22, 2007 @ 8:30 am | Comment

Sonagi,

I am glad you ask.

The trade data is from USDA FAS’ “BICO Reports”, and the rejection data is from FDA’s “Import Refusal Reports”. The Refusal Reports (from FDA’s web site) are monthly based so you will have to keep a running total manually on each country.

Using the WaPo’s methodology, according to my calculation, in terms of food safety, Mexico > China > India and all are far worse than Canada. It happens to match their income levels, lo and behold. But China is the headline worthy material, isn’t it?

BTW, I read the WSJ report already. It’s to the points and backed up with facts and figures. I have no qualm about it. I just want everybody to wait and see if a Chinese party is liable to the deaths in Panama.

May 22, 2007 @ 9:05 am | Comment

“And so can China, which is heavily dependent on the US for exports. The EU is shifting its outsourcing to eastern europe.”

lol, no. if China dumped its reserves the U.S would become third world overnight; without U.S markets China will lose a lot of money but the impact won’t be as strongly felt.

“Oh yeah, will China die from thirst or poisoning first?”

Will the U.S. die from obesity or overspending first?

May 22, 2007 @ 9:40 am | Comment

@ferins

You need to take some economics courses before you open your mouth. The biggest shock to the US market would be oil but I’d bet that the Saudis would step in to cushion the blow. Also, Europe and Japan would step up because the US is the engine for the world’s economy. China would loose its largest market which would lead to massive unemployment which would devastate its economy. China and the US are tied together on this.

@JXie

Do you have any evidence China wasn’t responsible for the poisoning in Panama? The article I read was pretty persuasive and clearly showed all the steps in the process.

May 22, 2007 @ 11:46 am | Comment

Kenzhu, scroll up a bit & you will see a post from me starting with “here is my reasoning”.

Ferins, don’t feed the trolls.

May 22, 2007 @ 12:19 pm | Comment

“if China dumped its reserves the U.S would become third world overnight; without U.S markets China will lose a lot of money but the impact won’t be as strongly felt.”

China already is a third world country. Without US spending, China will have up to 40% unemployment and massive civil unrest, possibly some breakaway states.

The US is addicted to CHinese crap, but the source of production can be shifted within a few months and life in the US will go on while hundreds of millions of newly unemployed Chinese cannot use shopping to try to ignore the poisonous crap they eat, breathe and drink.

May 22, 2007 @ 1:04 pm | Comment

@JXie

I asked for evidence not reasoning.

This article lays out the fact. The counterfeit good started in China and ended up in Panama after a stop in Spain. Read it here.

May 22, 2007 @ 1:29 pm | Comment

Kenzhu, the key question is who first altered from industrial-grade to human-grade. NYT hinted that it knew but didn’t state it clearly — if you read the piece slowly and critically. An investigation is ongoing in China. If NYT has the smoking gun, why don’t they hand the information over to the Chinese authorities and cc to US FDA and/or Panamanian officials as well?

May 22, 2007 @ 2:33 pm | Comment

@JXie

The key question isn’t who altered the barrels but is why diethylene glycol was sold as glycerin. The Panamanian government thought it was adding glycerin to cough syrup not diethylene glycol, which is a well known poison. The circumstantial evidence points to the Yangtze Delta as there was a similar case in China. The biggest problem is that no one tested the barrels to see what was really in there.

May 22, 2007 @ 3:03 pm | Comment

If they have proof instead Judith Miller’d it, why don’t they hand over to the authority so the ones at fault can be prosecuted? Bear in mind, I didn’t rely on NYT’s report. There have been enough dead Iraqis and Americans to teach you not to rely on it.

May 22, 2007 @ 3:10 pm | Comment

They don’t have any proof; they just have very strong circumstantial evidence. Wang Gui Ping was arrested by the Chinese government for selling diethylene glycol as glycerin. His factory was in the same town that manufactured the mislabeled diethylene glycol that the Panamanian government used to manufacture cough syrup. How can you explain the situation?

May 22, 2007 @ 6:19 pm | Comment

“China already is a third world country. Without US spending, China will have up to 40% unemployment and massive civil unrest, possibly some breakaway states.”

More like 15%

“The US is addicted to CHinese crap, but the source of production can be shifted within a few months and life in the US will go on”

Right, and they can go to Indonesia and get even worse quality crap that poisons you as well. After the USD plummets to 100:1 on the Euro.

May 22, 2007 @ 11:44 pm | Comment

JXie,

Could you please show your calculations and provide links? You must have gone a lot of trouble putting together the data, so please share it.

The BICO pages for China and Mexico show the dollar values of imports. The OASIS refusal pages list each refused shipment but do not give a dollar value.

May 23, 2007 @ 8:27 am | Comment

I stumbled across this interesting little fact:

“Last year the USDA began to legalize the import of Chinese meat. Chickens can now be grown in the U.S., slaughtered in the U.S., shipped to China for “processing,” and then shipped back to the U.S. for human consumption.”

Does this mean it’s still cheaper to send dead chickens roundtrip to Chinese factories than to have undocumented workers chop ‘em, fry ‘em, and freeze ‘em for $6 an hour without benefits? Wow. I don’t think I want to eat chicken that’s gone halfway around the world and back.

May 23, 2007 @ 8:45 am | Comment

jXie,

Are you a paid shill attempting to influence and/or rebut potentially damaging material on this and other websites?

As I understand it the CCP uses it in an attempt to influence China’s populace?

Not that there is anything wrong with that, in that it is done in almost all countries big enough to have a budget and worried about their image. I am just curious because you have a massive amount of posts defending a pretty indefensible position…

May 23, 2007 @ 12:10 pm | Comment

Sonagi:

The new USDA lies/regs allow processing companies to ship meat to be processed in countries where cleanliness, safety regs and labor rights are meaningless.

So chances are that our food was prepared by people with missing limbs, open sores and respiratory diseases who have been working 14 hour shifts for months using tools that haven’t been washed in at least as long.

May 23, 2007 @ 2:35 pm | Comment

“jXie,

Are you a paid shill attempting to influence and/or rebut potentially damaging material on this and other websites?”

Please avoid ad-hominem attacks. I don’t agree with much of what JXie writes, but I appreciate the value of a dissenting voice with whom we can debate.

May 23, 2007 @ 7:20 pm | Comment

ew. i’m glad i buy local.

May 24, 2007 @ 3:36 am | Comment

ew. i’m glad i buy local.

May 24, 2007 @ 3:36 am | Comment

I started to find out the conditions of the slaves in the forced labour camps in China (they wont tell how many there are) when I looked into the persecution of Falun Gong in China.

People who are persecuted, along with actual criminals (as I understand it the real criminals can get reduced sentences for helping to torture free thinkers into submission) are herded about in nasty butt conditions, they sleep on cold wet floors, they have STDs spreading around, no sunlight, lots squashed together in small rooms, no good hygene…

And then those people are forced to assemble and package childrens toys, undies, chopsticks, you name it. They work a million hours a day until they have open sores and the scratching of the private parts and, well, just think about it…

May 24, 2007 @ 6:37 am | Comment

wow, a million hours a day!

May 24, 2007 @ 6:57 am | Comment

Hey dont make fun ! ( ;

May 24, 2007 @ 9:50 am | Comment

Maybe they’re getting a bit more serious now. Maybe not…

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18911849/

May 29, 2007 @ 4:08 pm | Comment

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