Sunday, May 27, 2007



A recent article in the Baltimore Sun reports on how the tainted pet food crisis made some internet sites that were previously obscure into valuable resources for the public, more valuable in Molly's opinion than the official sites that produced endless streams of reassurances that turned out to be wrong. As the news story developed and grew it was the blogosphere that became the most reliable source of up to date and reliable news. Such blogs as Pet Connection, Itchmo Blog, Howl911, The Pet Food List and Pet Food Tracker became a much more immediate and reliable source of information than official sites such as the FDA. These sites also had a political effect as they mobilized public opinion in support of Senator Richard Durbin's and Representative Rosa DeLauro's bills on tightening regulatory control of the pet food industry.

The article relates how the Itchmo Blog, named after the owner's (Ben Huh) dog's desire to be constantly scratched, went from a monthly number of hits of 350 in February to over 1.5 million hits in two weeks when the pet food recall began. The sites dug out and highlighted matters that were embarrassing to corporations and government agencies alike. Seems like the internet has become a very much real tool in politics, at least around this matter.

Then there are things about this recall and other exports from China that are "fishy" as well. The Los Angeles Times reports last Friday that there is yet another problem in fish that come from China. Hong Chang of Santa Fe initiated a voluntary recall of its frozen fish imported from China after two Chicago area residents became ill after consuming soup that contained the fish. The fish were sent to wholesalers in California, Illinois and Hawaii beginning last September and were presumably 'Monk Fish'. The problem is that they were contaminated with tetrodotoxin, an extremely toxic substance produced by another species, the Puffer Fish. These are considered an extremely desirable (and expensive) delicacy in Japan where they have to be carefully and specially prepared in order to avoid toxicity. Despite the experience of Japanese chefs there are continued reports of deaths from consuming these fish, even in Japan. Chefs preparing Puffers, also known as 'fugu' or 'blowfish' in Japan have to have at least two years training in preparation of this fish. The toxin's effects begins as a numbness in the mouth and progresses to total paralysis, leading to death by respiratory failure. The victims may remain totally conscious up until the end.
Tetrodotoxin featured prominently in a book that Molly once read 'Murder, Magic and Medicine'. It occurs in species other than the Puffer Fish, but these are not usually consumed as human food. The toxin binds to voltage-gated sodium channels on cell membranes, especially muscle cells, thereby inhibiting their contraction. Death may mercifully result from cardiac failure before respiratory failure ensues. In minuscule doses tetrodotoxin has medical uses in cases of cardiac arrthymias and in pain relief. Death from acute intoxication usually occurs within 4 to 6 hours, with a known range of 20 minutes to eight hours. The published reports of toxicity from Japan say that 646 cases were reported from 1974 to 1983 with 179 fatalities. Some estimates place the worldwide incidence as 200 cases per year with a 50% mortality rate. In Haiti the use of tetrodotoxin is traditional in so-called "zombie magic". The actual fatality rate in Haiti has always been a great unknown. Not every Hoodan succeeds all the time.
No other importer other than Hong Chang has yet instituted a recall of this fish product
Meanwhile up here in Canada the Toronto Globe and Mail published an update yesterday on how melamine contaminated fish food entered Canada and then the USA. The actual original importer was American, a company in St. Louis, and the original source was Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Co. Ltd, one of the Chinese companies implicated in the pet food scandal. The feed was imported from the USA last August. The name of the St. Louis company is being protected by the CFIA, and they say that the contaminated feed "has gone to less than 60 fish farms and hatcheries in Canada". How reassuring !!!

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