Monday, May 07, 2007

More than Melamine

I had a whole bunch of recipes to post, all on fresh herbs and spring menus. I'll get that out, but I saw an article in the paper that needs some attention first.
“The public thinks the food supply is much more protected than it is,” said William Hubbard, a former associate commissioner who left in 2005 after 27 years at the agency. “If people really knew how weak the F.D.A. program is, they would be shocked.”

“For the life of me I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do,” said Mr. Thompson, who is a member of the Coalition for a Stronger F.D.A., a lobby group in Washington, and is running for president. He said he worried “every single night” about threats to the food supply.
These are quotes from the New York Times' article "Food Imports Often Escape Scrutiny." The Times also did an investigation into another type of import from China causing not pet deaths, but human deaths, specifically children. The import is a counterfeit ingredient used in many medications, often cough syrups for both adults and children. The pure ingredient is safe glycerin, but the counterfeit sold in its place is sourced from diethylene glycol, a primary ingredient in antifreeze, and highly toxic. Ingestion of the substance causes kidney failure, then affects the central nervous system causing paralysis and leaving the victim unable to breathe. Most die.

This toxic syrup has figured in at least eight mass poisonings around the world in the past twenty years. It is estimated that thousands have died. Due to underreporting in third world countries, this number may actually be much higher. Three of the last four cases the counterfeit was made in China, a major source of counterfeit drugs. The most recent incident was in Panama where an estimated 395 people have died, most of them children. The shipment in this case was linked directly to China.

In 1995, a shipment made its way to Haiti, and even to the U.S. After 88 children in Haiti died, the U.S. buyer of the tainted shipment was lucky enough to catch the counterfeit before it was used. The FDA had no awareness of the shipment.

According to the World Health Organization, in December 2006, 440 Chinese drug counterfeiting operations were closed down last year and two of the top Chinese drug reglators were arrested for taking bribes.

The costs savings for a counterfeiter? $975 per TON. Pennies per tainted bottle of medicine sold that could kill a child. This is not just counterfeiting, this is murder for pennies a person. And it needs to stop. China is the third largest exporter or food to the U.S at 199,000 shipments per year, of which only two percent is tested.

Tell your representative that you want a stronger FDA, that you want sanctions against imports from China until this is resolved. All food and drug imports. First melamine, now this. This has to stop.

If you do not know who your representatives are, you can find them and email them at and Feel free to use the text of this post to express yourself.

You can read more at these links:
From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine
Food Imports Often Escape Scrutiny


Alison said...

I think about that Tommy Thompson comment often.

My only concern about all the scrutiny on the FDA, and their complete failure to protect us from all kinds of problems (tainted peanut butter, e.Coli, etc.), is that I fear it will lead to inappropriate restrictions on small farms. Their "scale neutral" approach to slaughterhouse regulations, applied wider, could be pretty devastating for a small, ecologically-sound farm.

I think it was Michael Pollan who said that the whole tainted-spinach thing could theoretically lead to restrictions like "no fresh produce allowed from farms where livestock roam" - as if that's the right solution. They need to think small, not industrial, and our critiques should be focused on how poorly they support sustainable agriculture, not simply how they're "not doing enough." Does that make sense?

The Expatriate Chef said...

It does. I am hoping for the Farm Bill revisions, especially those that support small farms, vegetable growers, the local-to-cafeteria initiatives. I am also working with a group that aims to bring local and organic to schools as well as nutrition education.