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TimH
04-13-2007, 09:34 AM
Pet food made headlines, but food for humans is tainted, too, and very little gets inspected

By PHUONG CAT LE (phuongle@seattlepi.com)
P-I REPORTER
Pesticide-laden frozen blackberries. Filthy sockeye salmon. Frozen broiled eel that appeared to contain a new animal drug.
All were among the Chinese food imports that have been rejected at Northwest ports in recent months.
But it was contaminated wheat gluten that put the spotlight on a real and frightening fact: China's chronic food safety woes are now an international concern.
In recent weeks, scores of cats and dogs in America have died of kidney failure blamed on eating pet food containing gluten from China that was tainted with melamine, a chemical used in plastics, fertilizers and flame retardants.
While humans aren't believed to be at risk, the episode has sharpened concerns over China's food exports and the limited ability of U.S. inspectors to catch problem shipments.
Just as with manufactured goods, exports of meat, produce and processed foods from China have soared in recent years.
Over the past 25 years, Chinese agricultural exports to the U.S. surged nearly 20-fold, to $2.26 billion last year, led by poultry products, sausage casings, shellfish, spices and apple juice.
In 2006, China was the Port of Seattle's largest trading partner, with trade of more than $13 billion.
Food is still a small fraction of overseas imports that come through the Port of Seattle, said spokesman Mick Shultz. Food doesn't even make the list of top 25 items imported through the Seattle port. Clothes, car parts, footwear and electronic parts topped that list.

Still, China's agricultural exports to Washington grew 41 percent over two years, from $214 million in 2004 to $303 million last year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Fish fillets, bird products, animal feed products and dried fruits and nuts led the way in 2006.
But only a tiny fraction ever gets inspected, and that is not good enough, said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives with Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.
"When they do look, they look for common bacteria or known pesticides," she said. "If you've got some obscure contamination, they would never have a way to catch that."
A report by The Associated Press found that in 2006, Food and Drug Administration inspectors physically checked only 1.3 percent of imports, about three-quarters of the amount inspected in 2003.
Overall, the FDA is responsible for regulating about 80 percent of the nation's food supply; the Agriculture Department inspects meat, poultry and eggs, the other 20 percent.
Last month, FDA inspectors rejected 215 shipments from China, which included food, cosmetics and medical supplies. That accounted for 14 percent of the 1,573 detained shipments. Imports from 75 countries were stopped; only India had more than China, with 278.
Chinese products were bounced for containing pesticides, antibiotics and other potentially harmful chemicals, and for false or incomplete labeling.
The FDA's Seattle District office, which covers five states, handled 41 of those rejections. It refused that frozen broiled eel from China that appeared to contain a new animal drug, fresh ginger that contained pesticides, sockeye salmon, frozen cod fillets and frozen Alaska pollock fillets that were deemed filthy.
The FDA flags shipments to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection when it wants any imported goods or food held for further scrutiny.
"We may get a product where we're not sure what it is or if it should come in, and we may have to send it to the lab or do further analysis," said Jerry Malmo, assistant port director for trade operations in the Seattle office of Customs.
Goods that are ordered held are usually stored in a Customs-bonded warehouse until it is determined if they will be fully released, exported out of the country or destroyed by their owner, Malmo said.
Worried about losing access to foreign markets and stung by tainted food products scandals at home, China has in recent years tried to improve inspections, with limited success.
The problems the government faces are legion. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are used in excess in China to boost yields, while harmful antibiotics are widely administered to control disease in seafood and livestock. Rampant industrial pollution risks introducing heavy metals into the food chain.
Farmers have used the cancer-causing industrial dye Sudan Red to boost the value of their eggs and have fed an asthma medication to pigs to produce leaner meat.
In a case that galvanized the public's and government's attention, shoddy infant formula with little or no nutritional value has been blamed for causing severe malnutrition in hundreds of babies and killing at least 12.
China's Health Ministry reported almost 34,000 food-related illnesses in 2005, with spoiled food accounting for the largest number, followed by poisonous plants or animals and use of agricultural chemicals.
Chinese exporters are paying a price for unsafe practices. Excessive antibiotic or pesticide residues have caused bans in Europe and Japan on Chinese shrimp, honey and other products.
Hong Kong blocked imports of turbot last year after inspectors found traces of malachite green, a possibly cancer-causing chemical used to treat fungal infections, in some fish.
For foreign importers, the answer is to know your suppliers and test thoroughly, food industry experts said.
"You just have to hope that your system is strong enough and your producers are careful enough," said Todd Meyer, China director for the U.S. Grains Council.
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/dayart/20070413/Chinese-imports.gif

George Roberts
04-13-2007, 11:59 AM
"Problems in China's food-supply are legion and go right to the root: a farming sector dominated by tens of millions of tiny household farms."

In the US problems are attributed to the large farmers.

One cannot have it both ways.

TimH
04-13-2007, 12:02 PM
Whatever the cause, I think its best to avoid anything made in China.

Kaa
04-13-2007, 12:06 PM
Whatever the cause, I think its best to avoid anything made in China.

Right. Actually, best to avoid everything coming from all furriners. Them's not called aliens for nuthing! I say we shut down our borders and not let anything in. That'll show them!

Kaa

GregW
04-13-2007, 12:08 PM
"Problems in China's food-supply are legion and go right to the root: a farming sector dominated by tens of millions of tiny household farms."

In the US problems are attributed to the large farmers.

One cannot have it both ways.

I don't remember hearing about food quality problems on USA farms. Am I missing something?

TimH
04-13-2007, 12:09 PM
Right. Actually, best to avoid everything coming from all furriners. Them's not called aliens for nuthing! I say we shut down our borders and not let anything in. That'll show them!

Kaa

Not let anything in that doesnt have an equivalent "out".

Kaa
04-13-2007, 12:12 PM
I don't remember hearing about food quality problems on USA farms. Am I missing something?

Yep.

E.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_United_States_E._coli_outbreak

Kaa

GregW
04-13-2007, 12:21 PM
Yep.

E.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_United_States_E._coli_outbreak

Kaa

I don't think the situation in the USA represents widespread chronic problems, 199 people being ill, in some cases tragic, is noteworthy simply because it's so rare.
China on the other hand reported 34,000 such cases in 2005, one can assume the real number is significantly higher.

TimH
04-13-2007, 12:23 PM
Kaa is just always there to defend outside interests against Americans.

Kaa
04-13-2007, 12:30 PM
I don't think the situation in the USA represents widespread chronic problems, 199 people being ill, in some cases tragic, is noteworthy simply because it's so rare.
China on the other hand reported 34,000 such cases in 2005, one can assume the real number is significantly higher.

Huh? You are comparing a number from a single outbreak in the USA to what? Total number of cases in China (which, by the way, has a population about five times times that of the USA)?

By the way, Wikipedia quoting NYTimes says "Every year 5,000 deaths, 325,000 hospitalizations and 76 million illnesses are caused by foodborne illnesses within the US."

Kaa

GregW
04-13-2007, 12:46 PM
Well Kaa, I asked a question about food quality in the USA and YOU provided the link to the article. I would figure that that since the original article in this thread related to overal food production in China, that you would provide a link to overal food production problems in the USA....I guest you didn't.

George Roberts
04-13-2007, 01:00 PM
GregW ---

I thought that Kaa did a reasonable job of providing support of a question directed towards me. But ...

We can look at any of a number of issues where big farms/farming are claimed to be a problem, genetic engineering of seeds, antibiotics, feed lots, hormones in food, drugs to produce more milk/cow.

There was fire retardant in milk/cow feed a few years ago. I don't know what the health problems were but some seemed to think they were substantial.

All due to big farms/farming. All solvable if we went back to small farms. Or so the arguments go.

GregW
04-13-2007, 01:28 PM
My poing being that comparing USA farming hygienne with Chinesse farming hygienne, regardless of size of farm is useless. That goes for the whole food handling industries in both countries, not even close.