by Dina Eliash Robinson
Fact: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration—which is in charge of keeping our food supply safe for consumption—actually inspects and tests for bacteria or other toxins less than 1% of the tons of domestically produced and imported foods Americans consume.
Fact: There is no law or regulation mandating that food labels list the sources (i.e., places and producers) of all ingredients. The few packagers or distributors who do list ingredient sources, do so voluntarily.
Fact: Most packaged foods contain ingredients collected from a wide variety of (unidentified) U.S. and international producers. Many of the latter operate without even basic health and safety regulations or oversight. (Daily reports about toxic foods imported from China, attest to that.)
Fact: Late recalls of contaminated foods—along with lax media reporting—result in a growing number of deaths and injury among unwarned consumers.
Conclusion: Health-conscious consumers must demand major increases in the funding and upgrading of the FDA’s food inspection, testing, on-time recall and preventive public warning capabilities. Only a massive public outcry can stop grocery store aisles from turning into minefields, and the unavoidable act of eating from becoming a game of Russian roulette.
While no one expects perfect solutions, no one should be satisfied with crumbs of “good enough” either. Here are examples of what is unacceptable when it comes to food safety:
>> Every few weeks, it seems, Californians are warned by public health authorities to stay away from lead-tainted Mexican candy. Late recalls of candy made by De La Rosa Pulparindo and INDY Dedos barely rate a back page blurb in the Orange County Register.
>> Last month, a shipment of l.5 pound bags of ‘baby’ carrots—a fraudulent name given to the little stumps that are actually machine-whittled parts of full-grown carrots—were pulled off Costco shelves throughout Canada and Newfoundland in a voluntary recall. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (counterpart of the U.S. FDA) warned the public after four people were sickened by the Shigella-contaminated carrots. Shigella is a contagious infection that causes (often bloody) diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting, and lasts from 4 to 14 days. Imported from Mexico and distributed by the Los Angeles Salad Company, the carrots had obviously been distributed without being inspected.
>> Also in Canada, just the other day, bagged salad was found to be contaminated with E.coli and removed from a store. The distributor, a division of Dole Food Co., issued an international recall for one of its bagged salad brands, marked with “best if used by Sept. 19, 2007,” and by the production code “A24924A” or “A24924B.” According to the company, the salad bags were not sold in California.
>> Dried apples, pet food, toothpaste, seafood, toys and clothes treated with carcinogenic chemicals find their way daily from China to markets around the world—including the United States, China’s biggest trade partner.
Anyone who suspects sinister motives here, should consider that at least 300 million Chinese a year are stricken with food-borne illnesses.
There have been countless reports about substandard and tainted foods causing fear, grumbling and, so far, mostly suppressed anger among the Chinese. The memory of past famines and widespread hunger is probably what keeps a lid on these sentiments. To mention just a few of China’s recent internal food scandals:
• 23,000 cases of substandard or tainted foods were discovered in an area of small, unlicensed factories.
• Seafood farms routinely use the highly toxic antifungal chemical malachite green, and the powerful antibiotic Cipro (restricted in the U.S. by law to treating anthrax infection) to hide the effects of pollution and overcrowding. Huge amounts of this seafood is exported to the U.S. and other countries.
• In a headlong quest for profits, some Chinese companies have been producing fake eggs and fake baby milk—the latter of which has killed many babies.
• There have been eyewitness reports about duck eggs contaminated with industrial dies, and turbot fish containing carcinogenic residues.
• An investigative reporter discovered—and a TV station aired—a practice by street vendors of mixing shredded cardboard with meat and stuffing their steamed buns with the mixture to increase their profits. The TV station was forced to ‘admit’ that the story was faked, and the investigative reporter was imprisoned for a year.
• China’s enormously polluted air and water, cannot but contaminate even its most meticulously produced foods—for both domestic and foreign consumption. Its air pollution—and the acid rains it produces—also contaminates crops in Japan and other Asian countries; with some of it adding more toxins to the air above Los Angeles.
So, heads-up people!