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.