Tainted Ginger and What it Means For You

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported on shipments of fresh ginger from China which were contaminated with a dangerous pesticide. The shipments were discovered in supermarkets in California.

In 2006, China accounted for 78% of the ginger imports to the United States. Much of the ginger was grown by small farmers and then aggregated into larger shipments. Although China has banned the use of the dangerous pesticide Aldicarb on most vegetables and fruits, some small farmers have ignored this ban. At high enough dosages, exposure to Aldicarb can be fatal. Smaller dosages induce nausea, headaches, blurred vision, muscle spasms, and difficulty in breathing. The Wall Street Journal reported that some California buyers of ginger have experienced these symptoms.

Perhaps you don’t buy fresh ginger, and you are ready to navigate away from this page. Not so fast. Ground ginger is an ingredient found in many processed foods.

“So what,” you might say, “I don’t buy processed foods from China.” Unfortunately, that alone does not protect you. Due to a loophole in United States law, you can buy processed food manufactured in the United States and still be ingesting imported ingredients inadvertently.

How can this be? As I have reported before in my blog:

The source of the problem is a little-known loophole in the requirements for labeling ingredients on manufactured food products. If you are like me, you may have assumed that if a food product was made in the USA, than the ingredients were from the USA.

This incorrect assumption is potentially dangerous to your health. The law does require that food labels inform the “ultimate purchaser” of the country of origin. However in the case of processed foods, the consumer is not considered the “ultimate purchaser.” According to the logic of the government, when an important ingredient undergoes a “substantial transformation,” the “ultimate purchaser” becomes the manufacturer of the processed food.

The sole authority of what is a “substantial transformation” is the United States Customs Service. However, ingredients in almost all processed foods are considered to have undergone a “substantial transformation.” Thus, if your favorite processed food uses imported ginger, the ingredient has undergone a “substantial transformation.” The maker of the product does not have to inform the public that they are using imported ginger or, for that matter, any other imported ingredient.

What can you do? Here are my recommendations:

  1. If you use fresh or powdered ginger, buy only organic ginger. Organic ginger is very unlikely to be imported from China.
  2. For all processed foods that you regularly consume, call the toll-free number that the manufacturer usually provides on the package. Ask them specifically for the country of origin of their ingredients.

For more information you may access my previous five blog posts on imported food here.


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