Sunday, May 20, 2007

Weekend Update

This just in from our You Get What You Pay For Department--

The Washington Post this morning reports that U.S. inspectors for years have been finding tainted food products arriving here from China.

And not just pet food, people. We're talking fruits and vegetables doused with cancer-causing chemicals, seafood coated with putrified bacteria or laced with banned antibiotics, poisonous fish, tainted vitamins.

After news that the Chinese were spiking the nitrogen content of pet foods and animal feed with chemicals used in floor laminates and swimming pool treatments--products that ended up killing perhaps thousands of pets in this country--the stomach-churning revelations just kept coming.

On the other hand, what did you expect when the United States started turning over large parts of its food processing to unregulated Chinese industry? As the Post article details, our food manufacturers have become completely relient on cheap Chinese labor for many of the ingredients most commonly used in processed foods.

For instance, the Chinese now manufacture most of the world's ascobic acid, an important preservative. These and other food products simply are not manufactured here in the good ol' U.S. of A. anymore--it's all been turned over to the Chinese.

The Los Angeles Times reports that China exported $2.5 billion of food ingredients to the United States and the rest of the world in 2006, an increase of 150% from just two years earlier, according to Chinese industry estimates. China is now the predominant maker of vanilla flavoring, citric acid and varieties of vitamin B such as thiamine, riboflavin and folic acid, items frequently added to processed foods.

The U.S. government is loathe to do anything to antagonize the Chinese. Our own agri-business and food industries now have too much invested in the Chinese market. In fact, our government is considering allowing poultry grown and processed in China to enter the U.S. marketplace. And you won't have any way to know where it came from.

"So many U.S. companies are directly or indirectly involved in China now, the commercial interest of the United States these days has become to allow imports to come in as quickly and as smoothly as possible," The Washington Post quotes one former assistant U.S. trade represenatative as saying.

Up to now, China and other Asian countries reportedly have resorted to smuggling poultry products into this country in containers labed "dried lily flower," "prune slices" and "vegetables."

The best part? What inspectors have actually caught, including "filthy" fruits, prunes tinted with un-approved chemical dyes, shrimp coated with a cancer-causing antibacterials, and swordfish rejected as "poisonous," according to records obtained by The Post, is just a fraction of the dangerous products finding their way into our food chain.

And more breaking news: Authorities in Panama have discovered 6,000 tubes of toothpaste containing the poisonous anti-freeze ingredient diethelyne glycol. The toothpaste, in brands labeled Excel and Mr. Cool, are believed to have originiated guess where?

Three Southern states have banned the importation of Chinese catfish because they contain a banned antibiotic. And now two U.S. food giants, Mission Foods Corp. and Tyson Foods Inc. have asked their U.S. suppliers to use no more ingredients from China.

For the reasons listed above--e.g., Chinese ingredients are in everything--the idea of just saying "No" may be impossible.

The Chinese, of course, are promising a crackdown on all this misuse of chemicals in foods. And we trust the Chinese government, don't we? Like we trust our own government to do what's best for us? Right?


Drink your milk!

That's what mom used to say. And didn't we love to come home from school to a plate of warm cookies and a tall glass of cold milk?

Well, we may be getting more than we bargained for. The U.S. is in for a glut of organic milk. Increasing demand plus a change in the way organic cow feed is classified will cause a surge of 40 percent over previous years, resulting in an estimated 25 million gallons of excess milk in this country.

Quick! More cookies!

And what do we do with all that milk? Well, Stonyfield Farm (now owned by Danone, don't you know) is cruising over to France to sell the Europeans on organic yogurt. The Europeans are big on organic (not so big on the genetically engineered stuff).

The Stoneyfield Farm--or should we say Ferme--product comes with a couple of chatty cows on the package, while the sales campaign includes a website with all kinds of intel about benefits to the planet.

Who says we can't teach the French something about food?

On the not-so-good side, the U.S. Dairy Council is removing ads that claimed that drinking milk would help you lose weight. Seems there's no evidence to support that claim.

Meanwhile, on the subject of evidence, a researcher at Harvard wondered if there might be any ill effects to humans from artificially keeping dairy cows lactating 300 days out of the year. Sure, the method of fooling cows into thinking they're pregnant using bovine growth hormone produces more milk. But research is now indicating that all the cow estrogen in commercial milk may be a factor in some forms of cancer.

Could it possibly be that modern methods are not so much better than the old methods? Research on children who grow up rural in Europe is showing that a diet rich in raw milk results in fewer instances of allergies and asthma.

Of course, no one is recommending raw milk. Right?


Mmmmm. Nothing like the smell of buttered popcorn coming from the office microwave, no?

Turns out there really are few things like that buttery aroma. In California, they're finding that the butter substitute, otherwise known as the chemical diacetyl, can destroy the lungs of factory workers who handle the stuff.

The microwave popcorn industry claims there's really no substitute for the butter substitute. (Butter maybe?) But a bill has been introduced in the California legislature to ban diacetyl, buttery flavor or no.


Kudos to the New York Times Magazine for devoting an entire article to advocating designated protected marine areas in American waters to assist faltering sealife populations.

Meanwhile, new satellite imagery shows in startling new detail the mud plumes kicked up by fishing boats trawling the ocean floors.

Ain't technology grand?


Finally, we found these words in the weekly e-mail from our farmer friend Brett Grohsgal--addressed to subscribers of his Community Supported Agricutulture package--particularly timely and particularly poignant. So we are reprinting Brett's missive here in its entirety:

I think you as CSA supporters and voters and taxpayers deserve a comment from your closest farmer on the melamine nonsense (i.e., the toxic industrial contaminant intentionally mixed with some livestock feed additives imported from China ). So:

We as Americans get what we pay for. The USDA, Congress, the Executive, and big agribusiness want inexpensive food for the masses. So what is permitted or even advised by the authorities is a complex system of super-cheap supplements to agriculture that can make raw foods ever-more-cheaply produced. Witness melamine; witness recycled slaughterhouse gore being dried and then re-incorporated into processed livestock feed; witness feedlot steers requiring massive amounts of antibiotics to stay standing; witness immorally overcrowded meat chickens on the Eastern Shore; witness the slow dilution of ethical organic standards about humane and correct treatment of livestock, as evidenced by Horizon not actually giving their cows any pasture. Witness the purchase of Stonyfields by Dannon and the purchase of Ben and Jerry’s by Haagen Dasz. We get what we pay for: a food production system that clearly values industrial profit over both our health and our responsibility to treat our animals with due respect. That is not value. That is shame. Cheap foodstuffs from China are only the most recent scandal.

How to eat well and eat ethically? You are already doing it. We worked with our Mennonite feed mill to make a special vegetarian recipe of pure ground grains and vitamins to get our hens the protein they need to lay good amounts of eggs. No junk, no melamine, no slaughterhouse waste disguised as “protein supplement”. This feed is indeed more costly. You pay extra for these eggs, but those dollars also go towards buying the portable fences that let us easily shift our flocks to fresh, lush pastures every 14 days. Happy hens are the way to go.

And those omnivores of you willing to go to extra precautionary measures are avoiding the pseudo-organic of Fresh Fields and are going with truly local and truly trustworthy meats, be they from farmers’ market growers like Betsy and Forrest Pritchard of SmithFresh or from other nearby reliable farmers. You really need to be able to look the meat farmer in the eye when you ask about pasturing and feed. Else you are more subject to trends in marketing, in advertising, in shipping. Else you are prey to the false economies of “efficiency”. Our meat is not supposed to be raised “efficiently”. It is supposed to be raised with humanity and with safety and with ethics. When “efficiency” in agriculture leads to treating animals so poorly, it is time for a real investigation of the assumptions and pitfalls of such practices.

I get often despondent when I see the flood of bad, cheap food that so pervades American meals. And then some new scandal rears its ugly head, and I wish we had the time and labor to raise more than just eggs. You deserve safe foods, be they vegetables for all, or, for the omnivores, more safe meats from trusted local farmers like us. I regret that Even’ Star cannot more fully fill your tables.
Thinking of you, of Wendell Berry, and of the deep need for reform of our national food supply system. And thanking you for choosing us, in lieu of the supermarket—

Amen, Brett!