Why do we keep importing food from China?

by Amanie Jun 28, 2007 fileunderFound in Food & Drug

There has got to be a reason, because from all the, how should I put it, less-than-appetizing (read: disgusting) reports coming out it seems like an immediate ban is necessary. But it's not happening for some reason and we only get trickles of information concerning the various issues that are arising.

Sweden's National Food Administration recently announced that since the beginning of 2007 (up until May) 138 cases within the EU have come out where Chinese foodstuffs have been unfit for consumption. 138 cases. This includes basics such as banned colouring, antibiotics, preservatives and pesticides. Cases of illegally imported, unclean or foul-smelling food, as well as products with high levels of heavy metals, poisonous mould and dioxins have also been reported. In the US, it's much more prevalent. The month of April alone showed 107 detained food imports due to a variety of reasons including: dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical, frozen catfish laden with banned antibiotics, scallops and sardines coated with putrefying bacteria and mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides. Appetizing, no?

Today reports have surfaced that a village in Beijing specializing in pig sales has just been caught force-feeding wastewater to pigs through plastic pipes shoved down the pigs' throat, pumping it full of wastewater to boost their weight before slaughter. How is this getting reported without the immediate call for banning of all foodstuffs? Because with all the reports coming out, what will be the last straw? It seemed that with the death of our beloved pets due to tainted pet food, the ban would begin. But it hasn't. The US Food & Drug Administration is reporting that over 900,000 tainted toothpaste tubes are circulating throughout the US today. Toothpaste that has substituted glycerin (a sweetner) for diethylene glycol, a compound commonly found in antifreeze. What does the FDA say about this? They recommend you, "throw away toothpaste labeled as made in China". Well thanks, I might do just that, but can you please make it so that I don't have to be a certified food engineer to buy things from the super market?

The reason behind such atrocities is obvious, of course. It's cheaper to buy food from China than it is to buy it locally and companies now rely on this cost-cutting method to boost profits. Just as with electronics and common household items, China's monopoly on manufacturing is extending to food. But food is a much trickier beast than a DVD player, isn't it? If my DVD player breaks I can blame China's lax quality assurance and I might be out a few bucks, but I'm not going to die. So now what? Do we keep waiting for China's quality to measure up or do we rely on the much-lobbied FDA to make it so that this stuff never gets to our homes in the first place? Personally, I'm not banking on either. As a consumer, I'm making a choice. I don't care if garlic is going to cost me $5 per pound versus $0.50 per pound, I'd rather pay extra than learn later I'm eating a wastewater-ed, antifreeze-laden, antibiotic-laced, bacteria-filled dinner.

UPDATE: China executed their former head of food & drug safety, Zheng Xiaoyu on July 10th after being convicted of taking bribes to approve an antibiotic that resulted in 10 deaths. The government chose this harsh sentence as a way of sending a message to their commitment in improving their poor food safety record. You can read more here.


Associated Press

Sweden's The Local

The Washington Post


1.  avatar Omar said:

It's nice for you to be able to spend that extra money, but for low income peeps what choice do they have? It's easy to say "BAN CHEAP LOW QUALITY FOOD", but let's think it through for a moment. Let's get some prerequisites out of the way. Illegal ingredients shouldn't be allowed (of course). And people have the choice. If you want to buy $5 garlic you already have the choice to spend more money on quality, places like Whole Foods have become quite rich on people like you. But is that really the best solution? Maybe that's precisely WHY horror stories like this don't get more attention. The people that would be outraged at this kind of thing aren't affected by it because they're high-income and shop at organic places. The low-income people, the people without a voice get stuck with the crap. I'm not really saying much new here, as this is a pretty well known sociological phenomenon (how many millionaires are fighting in Iraq?). The proper solution is for the government to UPHOLD the bans it made in the first place! Laws require creation AND enforcement to be effective.
Jun 28, 2007 12:58pm
2.  avatar Amanie said:

Yes, but what do you do in the meantime? I mean, what I'm getting at is DON'T buy the cheap stuff (made in China), find an alternative! And there ARE alternatives, even in the low-income bracket. If you make high-quality food a priority, you can find ways. But it has to be a priority.
Jun 28, 2007 1:03pm
3.  avatar Omar said:

You say that there ARE alternatives. But can you list some of the price-comparable alternatives to the things that you're talking about?
Jun 28, 2007 1:08pm
4.  avatar GT-D said:

You can point fingers all over the place, but China is not the only place guilty of poor practices concerning food quality. I won't drink milk from the U.S. because its often got tons of chemicals in it. GE foods is a huge issue and is not limited to one country or another. The U.S. allows strains of certain crops to be copyrighted, then they tell farmers in countries that they have the power to exert these copyrights that the farmers no longer are allowed to harvest their own seeds and must buy aborting seeds every year from approved suppliers. China has relatively low food exports, especially for staple products, for instance they have no chance of competing with the U.S. in the rice market, even in their local markets now since they joined the WTO. They have been forced out of staples and into labour intensive fields like fruit and cut flowers. One would be hard pressed to defend the FDA as an organization known for its integrity and devotion to its task. Plenty of things in its history have gotten approved under dubious circumstances. Maybe putting pressure on your local government to better control and monitor imports and force proper disclosure of the source and processing of a given product then to go around picking a country to single out. Also "Today reports have surfaced that a village in Beijing specializing in pig sales has just been caught force-feeding wastewater to pigs through plastic pipes shoved down the pigs' throat" - Beijing is the capital city of the PRC, maybe its just a typo or something but hardly lends credence to the claim.
Jun 29, 2007 10:32am
5.  avatar Amanie said:

GT-D, all good points. I agree that China isn't the only culprit of questionable food practices as well as a perpetrator of contaminated food (there's a salmonella warning out right now for "Veggie Booty", sold in Canada & US). But, because of the prevalence of these issues and the fact that the FDA is either unwilling or unable to control the current situation, I think the logical choice is to minimize the possibility of contamination by banning countries that we know have issues. I'm not singling out China as the only one, but it's the one showing up in the news lately and I'm having a hard time defending them as the number of cases continue to rise. Sure, ideally I'd have my own cow, my own vegetable garden and live completely off the land, but since there's no way that's going to happen, I'm mitigating my risks (and I don't drink milk from the US, either).
Jun 29, 2007 11:40am
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