Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Taking the Safety out of Food Safety?


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On March 15, 2007, FDA learned that certain pet foods were sickening and killing cats and dogs. FDA found contaminants in vegetable proteins imported into the United States from China and used as ingredients in pet food.  All tainted pet food, animal and fish feed, and vegetable proteins continue to be recalled and destroyed. All those involved in the scheme to import products purported to be wheat gluten in the U.S. that were contaminated with melamine were indicted by a federal grand jury.

I sure you may remember this scandal if you had a pet as you scrambled to find a safe food for your dog or cat.  Apparently, since then, we have discovered that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

China’s food scandals continue to prevail.  During a holiday weekend in May, 192 people from two weddings needed to be hospitalized from food poisoning.  Even more serious, was another wedding banquet last April in which 500 people fell ill from pork contaminated with a steroid, called clenbuterol, that makes pigs grow faster and leaner.  It was banned in pig feed in the 1990’s, but apparently still used under the name of “lean pork powder”.

  • The China scandals keep coming.  In 2008, 300,000 children with 6 deaths were sickened by melamine containing baby formulas.
  • Uncooked pork left on a counter overnight by a Chinese woman emitted a blue light caused by the presence of a phosphorescent bacterium.
  • Watermelons began exploding on farms in China due to the application of too much growth hormone to increase their size.
  • Last year, a Chinese college professor of food sciences published results from an investigation of restaurants using oils  that were discarded and recycled from sewers, reprocessed and then sold at a much lower cost than fresh oil.  It was also found that the oil contained a cancer-causing fungus.
  • In order to increase the size of fish, aquatic farmers feed them ground-up birth control pills.

And what about seafood?.  Recently, I looked at the breaded fish products in the freezer section of Sam’s Club and guess what – China was the primary country of origin – Not too comforting.

A new report by the WorldFish Center and Conservation International tells us that from 1970 to 2006, the global per capita of farmed fish grew from 0.7 to 7.8 kg and the most startling information was that China accounted for 61.5% of global aquaculture in 2008.

China is the single largest exporter of seafood to the U.S., especially shrimp and catfish.  Don Kraemer, then deputy director at the Office of Food Safety of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, testifying before the U.S. and China Economic and Security Review Commission said:

“In the course of an increased sampling program of imported Chinese aquacultured seafood which ran from October 1, 2006 through May 31, 2007, FDA continued to find residue of unapproved drugs in fish species including catfish, basa, shrimp, dace and eel.”

When we deal with imported fish from China, how can we be sure the fish is free from contaminants?  This is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration.  The FDA has been underfunded and in 2009 only inspected roughly 0.1% of all imported seafood for drug residues.

Could such food safety violations found in China occur here?   We hopefully have higher standards and tighter regulations for food safety than in China, but recent suggestions to cut the budgets of the FDA further raises some red flags.

An excellent article from Bloomberg News reports:

“The Food and Drug Administration, charged with preventing E. coli outbreaks similar to the one that sickened thousands in Europe, is trying to wedge $1.4 billion for a new food-safety law into a budget that Republicans have already cut for next year.

A vote in the Republican-controlled House last month to reduce the FDA’s fiscal 2012 food-safety budget by 10 percent to $752 million, the agency estimates, will slow the law’s progress if enacted, say supporters of the January legislation. Representative Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican who oversees the budgets of the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said increases are unnecessary because the food supply is “99.9 percent safe.”

Bill Marler, an attorney who was the focus of a new book by Jeff Benedict entitled “Poisoned The True Story of the Deadly E. coli Outbreak that Changed the Way Americans Eat” (which I recently read) says that the recent epidemic in Europe was deadlier due to the fact that the E.coli strain responsible combined traits of two strains and raised the risk for the potentially fatal hemolytic uremic syndrome, the cause of about 50 deaths so far.

“We have all of the tools to prevent a disaster like Germany’s,” Marler said in an interview. “It’s just a matter of, are we willing to pay for it.”

The FDA is working on rules to reduce contamination risks for fresh produce, required under the law that overhauled the food-safety system for the first time since 1938.”

I am for spending cuts, but in the recent environment of food recalls, outbreaks of contaminated meats and produce and Chinese imports in our food supply – is this a good idea?

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4 thoughts on “Taking the Safety out of Food Safety?

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  3. Egg producers and humane advocates reached a deal to support legislation to improve egg laying chickens – not perfect, but a start.
    The proposed federal standards would include cages that give hens up to 144 square inches of space each, compared with the 67 square inches that most hens have today. They would also include so-called habitat enrichment, like perches, scratching areas and nesting areas, that allow the birds to express natural behavior.


  4. The pork industry defends horrendous cruelty to animals — factory farmers keep breeding pigs locked in two-foot-wide crates where the pigs can’t even turn around for nearly their entire lives. Eight states have passed laws against this type of animal abuse, yet groups like the National Pork Producers Council still support it.

    More info at this link:


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