Sunday, July 1, 2007

Weekend Update

China is making the best case yet for eating locally.

On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the importation of several types of farm-raised seafood from China because it was contaminated with illicit chemicals, some cancer causing.

Included in the ban are catfish, shrimp, eels, basa -- a kind of catfish -- and the carp-like dace. The FDA is not requiring that the imports be pulled from restaurants or store shelves but said that incoming shipments would be stopped immediately.

U.S. health officials said the chemically-tainted seafood poses no immediate health risk and that the levels found were just over the detectable level.

According to The Washington Post, the potential toxins include a chemical called malachite green, which is used to treat fungal infections in fish and has caused cancer in laboratory animals. Fluoroquinolones, also found in the Chinese fish, can increase antibiotic resistance in humans, the FDA said. The chemicals are often used to battle fish diseases caused by China's polluted waterways, fish experts said.

The Post reported that the FDA had already barred individual Chinese manufacturers found to be exporting tainted fish, as the problems date to 2001. But heightened FDA inspections over the past several months have found that as much as 15 percent of the newly halted seafood contained the harmful chemicals, leading to the countrywide ban.

But then, environmentalists had already been warning us about the dangers of imported, farmed seafood. Shrimp farmed in Asia, for instance, is on the "avoid" list at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program.

Alabama and Mississippi, two of the largest catfish-producing states, banned sales of Chinese catfish last month after tests found two antibiotics prohibited by the FDA.

So why do we keep importing food from China?

Coincidentally, the Rambling Spoon blog, having been based in Southeast Asia, reports that Asians typically avoid Chinese food products.

"It may be news to Americans, but many Asians have long treated Chinese food imports as suspect (see my posts on this topic at Gourmet’s Choptalk, here and here). Of particular concern are fruits and vegetables susceptible to pesticide poisoning, fish and seafood from contaminated waters, and meat injected with steroids," writes Rambling Spoon author Karen Coates, the Asia correspondent for Gourmet.

Coates recalls a stroll through a marketplace in Hanoi, when her host warned her: "Don't buy those pears in the little white wrappers. They're from China. Bad pesticides."

In a Gourmet Choptalk column dated March 28, Coates also reported:

"A Chinese doping expert warns that some Chinese foods are so loaded with steroids, athletes could test positive for drugs during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Steroids pose a risk to all Chinese. Last fall, more than 330 in Shanghai fell sick after consuming pork tainted with a weight-loss steroid, which farmers apparently had given their pigs to make them leaner. And steroids aren't the only issue. Recently, Chinese duck eggs were reportedly found with a potentially carcinogenic dye. Farmers presumed people would find the red yolks auspicious. But they're just cancerous. Add to that general hygiene issues, pesticides, fertilizers, and chemical additives, and eating in China can be dangerous."

The Chinese lately have been fighting back, blocking U.S. food products at the border over alleged contamination issues. But this week Chinese officials acknowledged shutting down 180 food manufacturers this year after finding such potentially toxic ingredients as formaldehyde in candy, pickles, biscuits and other common foods. Those represent just a fraction of China's estimated 1 million food processing plants, most of them small and unlicensed.

"These are not isolated cases," Han Yi, director of the government's quality control and inspection department, was quoted as saying.

But it's not just the food factories in China. Chinese state media in April reported that 10 percent of the country's farmland is heavily polluted, posing a "serious threat" to the nation's food supply.

Elsewhere, Chinese-made toothpaste containing toxic diethylene glycol (normally used in antifreeze) continues to surface in stores here. The New York Times reports that approximately 900,000 tubes have been distributed in prison, hospitals for the mentally ill and in some public hospitals. And the Japanese have also recalled Chinese toothpaste.

But apparently that's not enough to put Americans off Chinese food products. U.S. officials, currently engaged in trade talks with the Chinese, are considering allowing poultry raised and processed in China to be sold in this country without country-of-origin labeling.

Bon appetit!


On the brighter side...A United Nations report concludes that climate change could turn enough fertile land into desert within the next generation to create "an environmental crisis of global proportions."


We all trust the labels on the food we buy, right? Turns out the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't have enough staff to track those labels and often the labels just flat-out lie.

Delia Hammock, nutrition director for the Good Housekeeping Institute, describes a Pirate's Bounty puffed rice snack that claimed 120 calories per serving and just 2.5 grams of fat. Tests showed the real contents were 147 calories and 8.5 grams of fat. Then there were the Rising Dough Bakery cookies that claimed just 70 calories per serving, but actually contained 150.

Check the story here.


Over the bounding main...More signs of fish disappearing from the oceans: Japanese chefs are searching for substitutes for tuna in their sushi. The bluefin tuna, prized by sushi lovers, is now endangered, but pirate fishing is still rampant, as we have noted here before.

By now, everyone has heard how Vice President Dick "Shotgun" Cheney invervened in a water dispute on Oregon's Klamath River to divert water to farmers, thus helping Republican pals, causing the largest salmon kill in modern history. Thanks, Dick.

The price of Beluga caviar has risen to new heights--guess why?--because the sturgeon that produce the luxury roe are nearly extinct. What's the answer? Why, fisherman are trying to track down the last remaining sturgeon to cash in, of course.
Read about it here.

Popular Science declares that the second-worst job in science is oceanography. Why? "Nothing but bad news, day in and day out..."

Eat any fish lately?


We've been covering the spike in food prices caused by turning food (such as corn) into gasoline. But here's a survey that finds 52 percent of American drivers would be willing to cut back on groceries if gas prices rose $1.

Go figure...


Bob del Grosso said...


That so many people would pay cut back on food spending to absorb a dollar increase in the price of gas is ironic given how the price of oil is driving up the cost of food.

Mondo-bizzaro Eduardo!

Ed Bruske said...

We live in a twisted country, Bob. But I guess you knew that...

Great fan of your blog, by the way, and would urge others to do likewise if they haven't already: