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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Chinese Ingredients -- Dangerously Unregulated

It isn't just dangerous chemical scrap in pet foods1. Chinese companies intentionally sold a poison in place of a common cold-medicine ingredient. At least 100 Panamanians died before the 260,000 bottles of medicine could be destroyed.2 And China has become "the source of most of the world’s fake drugs."5

In the US, we have come to depend on the FDA to ensure that our foods and medicines actually contain the ingredients claimed on the labels, that they are free of dangerous levels of chemical or biological contamination. But now we are importing large quantities of commodity ingredients from countries that don't share our history or expectations -- China never prosecuted or even closely examined any of the glycerine companies for their role in the Panamanian deaths.2 So we have to take action. The FDA has recommended drug makers to test every shipment of glycerine.6 A good idea.

In March, the FDA refused admissions for all vegetable protein products from China.3 One week later, China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine promised to begin inspection of vegetable proteins for export.4. This could help pet food makers (and perhaps human food and dietary supplement makers) feel more confident that they are getting what they paid for. They still might need to pay for more expensive protein assays that won't be fooled by high-nitrogen, non-protein additives like melamine scrap in their low-cost imported ingredients.

According to counterfeiting experts, "no amount of enforcement is going to stop" the distribution of counterfeit prescription drugs.5

If we suddenly had to stop importing all Chinese food and medicine ingredients, we would be unhappy with the effect on the economy. But it does make you stop and think. Why are these commodity ingredients such a big part of the global economy? Glycerine, vegetable protein concentrates, amino acid supplement powders. These are not whole foods. How about a bowl of New Orleans red beans and rice instead of some highly processed snack made with TVP and rice gluten?


1. Filler in Animal Feed Is Open Secret in China, New York Times, April 30, 2007

2. From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine, New York Times, May 6, 2007

3. IMPORT ALERT #99-29, "DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OF ALL VEGETABLE PROTEIN PRODUCTS FROM CHINA FOR ANIMAL OR HUMAN FOOD USE DUE TO THE PRESENCE OF MELAMINE AND/OR MELAMINE ANALOGS", US FDA, 4/27/07

4. "2 companies blamed for tainted pet food", China Daily, 2007-05-08.

5. "In the World of Life-Saving Drugs, a Growing Epidemic of Deadly Fakes", New York Times, February 27, 2007.

6. "FDA Advises Manufacturers to Test Glycerin for Possible Contamination", US FDA, May 4, 2007.

2 comments:

raylee said...

How sad but true. Being chinese myself, I feel these people give us all a bad name.

This makes you realize just how greedy people are. Just for the sake of profits, companies use these goods to reduce their expenses thus increasing their profits. Then again, consumers are the party to blame as it is the consumers who demand these products.

Awareness is the key. If we educate people on which companies import chinese ingredients for our consumption, we can get companies to stop importing them. We need to raise awareness in healthy eating. Show people that producing wholesome food doesn't have to be expensive, is easy, and can be quick.

FamilyNutritionist said...

Commodity ingredients are purchased for the lowest possible price, to produce "commodity foods" at the lowest possible price. The temptation to adulterate will always be there. Apparantly, some producers of food and medicine ingredients are ignorant, or willfully ignorant, of the dangers of adulteration. Or else they don't care. If China does not begin to regulate, I think the US will be forced to ban food ingredients from China. And importers will source ingredients through third countries...