Quick Recipes and Easy

Unsafe Foods – Can The FDA Protect Us?

My friend Marteal is pretty sure her dog died from eating food contaminated by Chinese wheat gluten. The fact surfaced last month that melamine, a plastic in wheat gluten imported from China was in nearly every common brand of pet food.

Food inspectors went to China to look at some of the plants where U.S. companies buy food for humans and found that we are eating some pretty filthy stuff. That further led to increased inspections at U.S. ports when containers of Chinese food products arrive.

Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website lists food imports its inspectors have refused at U.S. ports. fda.gov/ora/oasis/ora_oasis_ref.html
Last month, FDA inspectors blocked 257 food shipments from China.

I read a news report that quoted William Hubbard, who used to be its deputy commissioner. He is now pushing for a much stronger and better funded FDA.

and now works with the Coalition
In the past year, the FDA rejected more than twice as many food shipments from China as from all other countries combined. But friends, that is only because China’s cheap prices have made it our top trading partner. And how do the Chinese do quality control?
They don’t.

The 257 rejected shipments were “filthy.” That’s the official term, Hubbard told reporters. “It is a broad term for a product that is not fit for human consumption,” he said, “decomposing, smelling, yucky-looking.”

Some foods are rejected for “vet-drug-res.” That means the food product (fish or eels, for example) contains residues of veterinary drugs, such as antibiotics and antifungals. Pond-raised fish or seafood raised in polluted water is given drugs to treat them, Hubbard says.

But here is my absolute favorite Chines import tale. A FDA inspector told this one after visiting a Chinese factory that makes herbal tea.

“To speed up the drying process, they would lay the tea leaves out on a huge warehouse floor and drive trucks over them so that the exhaust would more rapidly dry the leaves out. And the problem there is that the Chinese use leaded gasoline, so they were essentially spewing the lead over all these leaves.”

By the way, that lead-contaminated herbal tea would only be caught by FDA inspectors at the border if they knew to look for it, Hubbard says.

As hysterical as Americans get over pesticides and food contaminants in our own food industry, you’d reckon there would be a massive outcry over the poor quality of cheap imported ingredients from Asia. But therein lies the rub.

Most families struggle to keep the grocery bills down. Millions shop at Wal-Mart and huge chain stores that offer cheap foods grown in China and sold here. Are Joe and Jane going to demand safer foods for themselves and their pets? Probably not if it means that prices go up 200 percent.
We like our Ramen noodles that cost 25 cents a pack.
We like farm raised salmon that’s half the price of wild.
And how about the pond-grown jumbo shrimp for the same price as tiny shrimp grown in the sea?

Canada, which has been a trading partner with China for longer than the U.S. has the same problems. I don’t know what their food inspectors do, nor how many containers they turn away because the food’s contaminated. I somehow suspect that the Canadian food safety bureau is better funded than the FDA is. After all, $100 billion is going out the window to fund the war in Iraq.
Food safety at home will just have to wait a while longer.

Gita M. Smith is a journalist living in Alabama. Her blog may be seen at Myspace.com/gitahandley Myspace.com/gitahandley



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