My last post on the potential dangers of isolated soy protein, particularly the imported variety, generated much interest. I began to consider the issue further and to my dismay, found that the problem was more widespread than I first realized.
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 most processed foods are considered to have undergone a “substantial transformation.” Thus if your favorite cookie uses imported wheat, the product has undergone a “substantial transformation”. The maker of the cookie does not have to inform the public that they are using imported wheat.
Clearly this non-labeling of imported ingredients rule is a huge loophole. My wife and I became curious as to what we would find if we began to call major manufacturers and inquired if they used imported ingredients in their products.
Our survey was far from complete, but the only company that we found that would unequivocally state that they were not using imported ingredients was Gerber’s Baby Food. Every other company we called such as Campbell’s Soup, Post Cereals, and Kraft Foods, admitted that they used imported ingredients.
For instance if you purchase a can of Campbell’s soup, you have no way of knowing if the chicken, beef, pork, or vegetables in the soup came from the United States or from some unknown foreign country.
I found one product, Post Cranberry Almond Crunch cereal, which contains glycerin. Glycerin from China has been contaminated. Diethylene glycol which is a poison found in an anti-freeze has been substituted for glycerin in Chinese manufactured toothpaste. When we called Post, they could not tell us the country of origin for the glycerin they use.
Many of the consumer representatives of food manufacturers we spoke to were quick to say they use human grade ingredients and not animal grade ingredients. They were quick to say they test their supplies, although they could not provide us with any third-party certification services that they used. We were hardly reassured by their vague claims.
Overall, food safety standards in some overseas countries are not up to the standards of the United States. The consumer has a right to know the country of origin of the ingredients they are ingesting.
A recent survey showed that just 1.3% of imported fish, vegetables, fruit, and other foods are inspected by the government. This is in spite of the fact that imported shipments that are inspected frequently turn up tainted goods. This is especially alarming since the average American eats about 260 pounds of imported foods a year.
Unlabeled ingredients are a breach of trust. One way manufacturers can restore our trust is to label their products with the country of origin of each imported ingredient. Each consumer can then decide if they care about the issue.
A modern market economy depends upon trust. Every day millions and millions of transactions take place. When we engage in a transaction, both parties trust each other to keep their word. Without trust, faith in a market economy quickly erodes.
I want to make it clear that I am a firm supporter of free trade. I buy clothing manufactured from countries all over the world, I have purchased cars from Japan, and I knowingly consume imported chocolate, olive oil, and jams.
When I knowingly buy an imported product, it is a win-win situation. I’m helping my family through lower prices, and I’m helping to grow economies all over the world.
Imported ingredients that are not labeled however are another case. The consumer does not know what they are eating and in many cases would not choose to consume the imported ingredients. They are a potential threat to our health and a breach of our trust.