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May 12, 2007

China And The USDA: If You Liked Our Chemical-laced Crunchy Grains, You'll Love Our Putrid Plump Poulty!

[by litbrit]

Apparently, it isn't enough that our pets have been poisoned and unknown amounts of ground plastic scrap and swimming-pool chemicals are floating around in America's human food supply.  Oh no--US authorities are currently working on a proposal that would permit chickens that are grown, slaughtered, and cooked in China to be exported to the US, where we currently produce almost all poultry domestically.  It's utterly unbelievable:

WASHINGTON -- In China, some farmers try to maximize the output from their small plots by flooding produce with unapproved pesticides, pumping livestock with antibiotics banned in the United States, and using human feces as fertilizer to boost soil productivity. But the questionable practices don't end there: Chicken pens are frequently suspended over ponds where seafood is raised, recycling chicken waste as a food source for seafood, according to a leading food safety expert who served as a federal adviser to the Food and Drug Administration.

China's suspect agricultural practices could soon affect American consumers. Federal authorities are working on a proposal to allow chickens raised, slaughtered, and cooked in China to be sold here, and under current regulations, store labels do not have to indicate the meat's origin.

Again with the No Labels Required!  Remember, our government wants us to buy  cloned meat, too, without knowing that we're doing so, since there won't be any labels informing consumers that the meat they're buying comes from the body of a cloned animal.  And remember further how Big Ag companies like Monsanto have famously challenged organic dairies' and ice-cream companies' right to label their milk and milk products as hormone-free, stating that so doing implied that their own hormone-laden milk might conceivably have something wrong with it.  As if we consumers have no right to know what we are feeding our families and make choices in their best interests, decisions that include rejecting any products we believe to be dangerous or suspect.  As you'd imagine, Congresswoman DeLauro , who strongly supports consumers' right to have food labeled properly, is all over this:

DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and chairwoman of a US House agricultural subcommittee , said Congress should signal its willingness to restrict imports from China until it improves food safety oversight.

"There is deception. There is lax regulation, and they've got unsanitary conditions," DeLauro said. "They need to hear from us they're at risk. Congress has to look at limiting some of their agricultural imports."

[...]

The USDA, which shares food safety oversight with the FDA, says its proposal to allow the sale of Chinese chicken is in the early stages and that there will be many opportunities for the public to be heard on the matter. Under the plan, any country seeking to export meat , poultry, or egg products to the United States must earn "equivalency," with documentation that its product is as safe and wholesome as the domestic competition. USDA officials would review records, conduct on-site audits, and confirm that foreign laboratories could ensure the food's safety, said Steven Cohen , a spokesman for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service . The agency would also inspect imported products as they enter the nation, he said.

Now, the USDA has considerably more muscle (and a fatter budget) than the FDA, but forgive me if I don't put a whole lot of faith in those promises of tightly-controlled inspections.  I'm especially concerned about our government saying they will "confirm that foreign laboratories could ensure the food's safety".

Yeah, right.

All an unscrupulous chicken exporter would need to do is set up some company and give it a nice, science-y name like, oh, Acme Biologic Technology, let's say.  Then, he could purchase some industrial, lab-like building--maybe an abandoned processing plant that hasn't yet been bulldozed to destroy evidence--fill it with stainless-steel tables and inspection equipment, and use it to "certify" the Chinese poultry as safe.  Until the USDA's attention wanders, and like the chicken waste that drips into many Chinese shrimp ponds, the inspection process devolves into a foul, dangerous mess.

Ensure the food's safety?  In a land where conditions like this exist?

In China's agricultural system, many farmers toil on 1-acre plots, while US farmers often work thousands of acres, said Michael Doyle , director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia and former chairman of the FDA's science advisory board.

In China, "there are hundreds of thousands of these little farms," Doyle said. "They have small ponds. And over the ponds -- in not all cases, but in many cases -- they'll have chicken cages. It might be like 20,000 chickens in cages. The chicken feces is what feeds the shrimp."

[...]

The USDA has found that up to 10 percent of shrimp imported from China contains salmonella, he said. Even more worrisome are shrimp imported from China that contain antibiotics that no amount of cooking can neutralize. Last month alone, the FDA rejected 51 shipments of catfish , eel , shrimp, and tilapia imported from China because of such contaminants as salmonella , veterinary drugs, and nitrofuran , a cancer-causing chemical.

You can write to Congresswoman DeLauro via her Website.

(H/T oddjob)

Also at Shakesville.

May 12, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

You don't have a taste for our poultry? Hmm... I'm thinking the taste of your Treasury Bills is getting a little rancid, too. I'm sure you'll see things our way.

Posted by: Hu Jintao | May 12, 2007 7:27:30 PM

General Kuo's chicken must be better with real Chinese chicken, right?

Hell, with Bush's FDA and USDA, it won't make much difference where the chicken comes from not far down the road. If the Chinese can feed the chicks melamine, why can't US growers? Free Trade!

[/snark]

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 12, 2007 7:59:35 PM

I know this is a horrible way for it to hapoen, but there will be one positive effect from this--food standards in China (and probably elsewhere) will be improved as a result.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 12, 2007 8:51:20 PM

food standards in China (and probably elsewhere) will be improved as a result

I hope you're right, Sanpete--I really feel for the Chinese people. For it is their land, water, and food that is affected when food standards are meaningless-to-nonexistent. The availability of clean, uncontaminated water (i.e. for washing and processing foodstuffs) is an increasingly worrisome issue for individuals and businesses alike in China, as well as for any who buy its exports.

Posted by: litbrit | May 12, 2007 9:31:13 PM

Not to nitpick, but there's not a very good reason not to use human feces as fertilizer. Would you rather they buy nitrogen fertilizers based on fossil fuels? I'm a big fan of composting toilets, and that really just skips the toilet step.

That, I suppose, is the danger of regulation. Yes, banning unsanitary things is good. On the other hand, regulating some iffy seeming agricultural practices, at least in the US, has made it very difficult for small and local producers to compete with the factory farms, even thought their practices are overall much safer and environmentally sound.

Posted by: Sam L. | May 12, 2007 10:24:45 PM

Exactly!

This is about free enterprise, not health. Why bother bringing that issue into one that it clearly has nothing to do with. The cheaper chicken will benefit all Americans.

Free the chickens!

If a few of the more physically frail among us get sick, it's the cost of freedom! And the cost of cheap chicken.

Posted by: ice weasel | May 12, 2007 10:38:03 PM

Sam L.:

The issue with excrement (human as well as animal) in our current world is that it can be and very often is, full of unprocessed or partially processed drugs (like estrogen) that have profound effects on those animals that consume them (i.e. male fish that can't produce sperm or have their sex organs change.) These drugs often do not break down in natural settings, like compost piles.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 12, 2007 10:50:07 PM

Jim, do you mean that we are so full of chemicals that our excrements aren't good enough to use as fertilizer?

Posted by: Carlos | May 12, 2007 11:04:11 PM

What amazes me is that it is somehow cost effective to raise, slaughter, process, cook, pack, and then ship a chicken halfway around the world.

Posted by: ShortWoman | May 13, 2007 2:16:31 AM

I confess...
I liked the idea of the automatic dropping of
chicken shit on chicken-shit eating fish.
We could then colonize the fish pond with
Fish shit eating shrimp whose shit would provide the nitrogen base for the fish-shit eating plankton..
To which we would add a little sunlight...
Let all the little photosynthetics grow and make a slurry we could feed feed sperm whales....

And the whole whale-hunting crisis would go away and the Japanese could take their boats home and Greenpeace could be at peace.

And stuff.

Posted by: has_te | May 13, 2007 9:25:22 AM

For what it's worth, Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods responded to my email about their grain sourcing. I use a lot of their food products because I have fructose malabsorption. I don't think they would mind if I copied it here:

Hello Scott,

Thank you for your email. We do source all of our wheat products, and the majority of all our products, from the USA and Canada . The Vital Wheat Gluten that we carry we source entirely from the USA and Canada . I have attached a letter written by Bob Moore to this email that addresses the Vital Wheat Gluten situation. I have included below a list of the sources for our wheat products as well as some of the other products.

We do source our Mung Beans and Pumpkin Seeds from China , our Tapioca Flour and Arrowroot Starch from Thailand , our Quinoa Grain and Flour from Ecuador and our Coconut Flour from the Philippines . If there are any other products that are interested in knowing where we source them from, please feel free to email me with those products and I can than email you back with their sources. Thank you for your interest in Bob’s Red Mill Natural products and have a terrific day.

Oregon, Washington and Idaho

Soft White Wheat ( Washington and Oregon (some))
Hard Red Wheat (not a lot)
Spelt ( Washington )
Barley, Pearled ( Washington )
Teff ( Idaho )
Hazelnuts ( Oregon )

US and Canada

Vital Wheat Gluten

Montana

Hard White Wheat
Hard Red Wheat

California

Rice Flour
Yellow Corn
Rice, Brown
Rice, White
Rice, Sweet
Rice, Wild
Beans
Almonds
Walnuts
Raisins

Canada

Oats
Flaxseeds

Posted by: scott | May 13, 2007 10:37:04 AM

Wow. That's the sort of customer service we'd like to see at every company. Thank you for sharing that informative letter, Scott. As so many imported ingredients fall under scrutiny, it's important to know where we can confidently buy, what we can safely eat, more so now than ever.

Posted by: litbrit | May 13, 2007 10:41:56 AM

Jim. That's very interesting. I'd never considered it. Off the top of my head, I would guess that that's less of a problem for Chinese chicken farmers than middle class Americans. But even if it is true, do we want small farmers in China to be forced through regulation to borrow money for fertilizer, pay extortionate rates to the multi-nationals that provide it, and then do we want to deal with the environmental impacts (climate change, eutrophication, etc.) that using it entails?

No easy answers, I guess.

Posted by: Sam L. | May 13, 2007 1:35:20 PM

Well, here at home in the USA, chicken manure is commonly fed to beef cattle; I'm not sure if that's better or worse than feeding it to shrimp.

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