Monday, May 21, 2007



The Washington Post has a recent (May 19th) article on how the pet food scandal has raised awareness about China's lack of controls over its exports. As the article points out the issue of contaminated pet food is hardly the only problem that poor quality Chinese exports have caused. Problems with the food supply include carcinogenic substances, banned antibiotics, pesticide residues and decaying materials. Other than foodstuffs tainted dietary supplements, toxic cosmetics and counterfeit medicines have also been turned back. In the last month more than 1,000 shipments have been refused entry to the USA, but, according to the article, these rejected items are often reshipped for further tries at entry.

The article goes on to discuss some of the difficulties in the way of resolution of this problem. For one American business has become excessively reliant on cheap Chinese imports. For another, though usually nobody admits it, the $5 billion in US exports of food products to China is tied up with pressure to not tighten the controls on imports.

The article goes on to describe how meat imports from China routinely enter the US even though they are theoretically banned because Chinese slaughterhouses don't meet USDA standards. They often enter under false labels such as "dried lily flower", "prune slices" or "vegetables". Meanwhile the Chinese government is pressing the US one to allow shipments of chickens raised in China into the USA, despite obvious concerns about not just the usual bacterial contaminants but also about avian flu. This will be a quid pro quo for China dropping its four year ban on US beef. The USDA's most recent audits of Chinese plants seem to give the go-ahead on this even though outside critics such as Tony Corbo of the Food and Water Watch say that the USDA audits sweep many problems under the rug.
For an increasing number of products China has now become close to the sole source. It now controls 80% of the world's ascorbic acid (vitamin C) production for instance. The article goes on to describe how the present US administration has blocked previous attempts to shore up the leaky US food protection regime.
Another article in the International Herald Tribune discusses how China is grappling (or not) with the implications of widespread fraud and counterfeiting in its export section. China presently exports more than $30 billion worth of food and drugs to Asia, Europe and North America. This has been put at risk by a continued pattern of shoddy goods. This article goes on to describe how Wal-Mart had to recall baby bibs made in China because of excessive lead levels. South Korean CJ Foods has recently recalled 42 tons of Chinese wheat gluten (maybe wheat gluten) that it imported from China. European authorities are testing all Chinese protein exports for melamine. The culture of secrecy that remains from the days of Stalinism means that people in China rarely have access to news about individual scandals, let alone the scale of the problem. When the government does take action it focuses on individuals rather than trying to correct the source of the problem. The two companies identified as exporting melamine laced products to the USA have been found guilty, and the previous head of the Chinese food and drug agency is now on trial in Beijing for taking bribes in connection with previous adulterated drug exports.
Another item from Reuters tells how Japan reacted over a year ago-certainly faster than the USA has done- to the poor quality of Chinese farm products by requiring tests for nearly 300 pesticide and other chemical residues. According to the article Japan may even beef up its regime, to the distress of Chinese trade officials.

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