Due to a little known loophole in the food safety laws in the United States, it is likely that most Americans are unknowingly consuming Chinese dairy products and other contaminated Chinese ingredients.
Did you know that China is the largest exporter of whey into the United States? Did you know that if your favorite cookie contains Chinese whey, the U.S. manufacturer does not have a legal responsibility to inform you? Did you know that the assurances made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about Chinese dairy products not being in our food are almost certainly false?
None of this should be surprising. The current financial meltdown has demonstrated that Congress and government regulators will put the interests of the industries that they regulate above the interests of the public. The FDA is no different.
This weekend the Chinese dairy scandal expanded. Pizza Hut in Taiwan has found melamine contaminated cheese powder, contaminated cookies were found in Japan, contaminated candy in England, and contaminated Heinz baby cereal in Hong Kong. In the United States, the FDA warned against the consumption of Mr. Brown coffee and milk tea products that were made in China because of possible melamine contamination. This is just the tip of the iceberg: The problem of Chinese dairy products in our food supply is certainly more widespread then we have been led to believe—and it is NOT limited to foods labeled of Chinese origin.
The poisoning of over 50,000 babies in China may be a tragic human interest story; yet, to many Americans it seems to be not relevant to their daily concerns. After all, similar adulteration of U.S. dairy products seems almost impossible, and very few consumers in the United States knowingly consume Chinese dairy products.
However, sadly, this complacency is unwarranted. As I mentioned, due to a little known loophole in the food safety laws in the United States, it is likely that many Americans are consuming Chinese dairy products. The assurances by the FDA that Chinese ingredients are not in infant formula in the United States fail to address much larger questions about Chinese dairy ingredients in the general food supply.
When most consumers fill their supermarket shopping carts with processed foods manufactured in the United States, they have no idea that these foods can legally contain unlabeled imported ingredients. Again, this is another case of regulators failing to do their job; it is another case of regulators enabling the firms they regulate to put one over the on the public with legal impunity.
In general, food products from foreign countries have to be labeled with their country of origin. Thus, olive oil from Italy is marked as a product of Italy. There is a big exception to the labeling requirement for imported products that undergo a “substantial transformation.” For example, a grape jelly manufacturer in the United States may be made from Chilean grapes, yet the manufacturer does not have to label their product as having a Chilean origin. Similarly, if a U.S. company uses imported dairy in their processed products, since the imported dairy product undergoes a “substantial transformation,” the U.S. producer need not label their products as having imported dairy ingredients.
There are no fresh Chinese dairy products that are generally available in the United States; and in any case, even if there were, the country of origin would be labeled. However, literally thousands of processed foods such as chocolate, crackers, cookies, pastries, “nutritional” drinks, and body-building powders have among their ingredients milk powder, cheese powder, and whey. China is the largest supplier of whey that is imported into the United States. Since a processed food undergoes a “substantial transformation,” if the final product is manufactured in the United States, there is no way for a consumer to know if they are consuming potentially poisonous Chinese dairy products.
Since this is just the latest Chinese food scandal—previous ones have involved soy protein, gluten, glycerin, fish, candy, ginger and garlic—you should be alarmed. The food labeling laws allow for Chinese ingredients to be used in processed foods without being labeled as being of Chinese origin.
So what can you do?
- Eat less processed foods and more whole foods. Again, imported whole foods must be labeled.
- For those processed foods that you must eat, call the manufacturer and ask them to name the country of origin for all of their ingredients. If their answer is equivocal, make it clear that you will stop buying their product.
Let me make it clear, I am a strong advocate of free-trade. China is an important trading partner, and trade benefits both nations. However, selling tainted food is a criminal action that is being aided and abetted by our food labeling laws.
The legacy of socialism in China has created an atmosphere where Chinese businessmen and their allies in government pursue mindless acts of cruelty and justify their actions with warped reasoning. While ordinary Chinese citizens eat poisoned food, the Chinese State Council Central Government Offices Special Food Supply Center assures that high government officials eat only organic foods such as “hormone-free beef from the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, organic tea from the foothills of Tibet and rice watered by melted mountain snow.”
The quickest way for this legacy to be undone is for China’s manufacturers to experience the strong power of market discipline. One Chinese brand affected by the current scandal is Bright Foods. Ge Junjie, a vice president of Bright Foods (Group) Co. Ltd., said: “It’s a tragedy for the Chinese food industry and a big lesson for us as it ruined the time-honored brand.” Yes, Mr. Junjie, that is what should happen when you behave in a criminal manner.
You can help spread the discipline of the free-market by knowing what you eat and by not relying on the U.S. government for assurances of food safety. My 2007 experiments with calling food manufactures do not exactly inspire confidence. For instance, Post brand “Cranberry Almond Crunch” cereal contains glycerin. Diethylene glycol which is a poison found in an anti-freeze has been substituted for glycerin in Chinese manufactured toothpaste. Last year, when we called Post, they could not tell us the country of origin for the glycerin they use.
Know what you eat! As you do, you will discipline not only Chinese producers but U.S. food manufacturers as well.