Monday, November 28, 2011


Researching and writing The Safe Food Handbook, changed the way I myself eat. One of the main changes: I stopped eating food imported from China. The more I delved into food production and processing in China - a country which is an increasingly important source of food to the U.S., Canada and other nations - the more I became concerned about whether it was safe to eat.

Overall, I became increasingly convinced that there just isn't enough value placed on the safety of consumers at all levels - food producers, processors, and even at the level of government officials such as safety inspectors. It's not only a matter of short-cuts being used in food production and processing, which result in contaminated food. There are also too many instances of conscious introduction of often life-threatening contaminants into food to make a quick profit. The Safe Food Handbook calls this practice "food terrorism." Both these reasons are why I now avoid Chinese imports when I shop.

However, intermittently a few of these food tainting scandals in China are exposed and publicized. When this happens, and those involved are brought to trial, the penalties are very stiff. Remember the melamine-tainted milk scandal in 2006-2007, which affected both human and pet food in the U.S. as well as other countries? The two men who were most responsible were sentenced to death. And Sanlu, the company involved, went bankrupt.
A more recent case concerns tainted pork - which did not become such an international issue. In March, it was discovered that a number of pig farmers in eight provinces in China were adding clenbuterol hydrochloride - also known as "lean meat chemical" to pig feed to produce leaner pork. This chemical is carcinogenic to humans.

It turned out that a business had been set up to produce the chemical in 2007 for just that purpose. The owners of the company were making huge profits. This means that dangerous pork had been on the market in China for quite some time before it was discovered. One of the reasons it took so long is reportedly because there was collusion of certain government animal health inspectors and food safety officials.

In the end, news reports say that 113 people were sentenced, with one of the producers of the chemical given the death penalty, the other a life sentence. I was surprised that the 36 pig farmers charged, got off so lightly, most just with probation or less than a year in jail. But I would guess that it was realized that they were just the tip of the iceberg: many more had probably used this chemical.

All these stiff sentences do not seem to deter others from trying similar get-rich quick schemes at the expense of the consumer. Checking of imported goods at the U.S. end by budget-strapped agencies is not enough to always catch tainted foods. I don't want to be one of those consumers paying the price.

To your good health,


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