Health Alert, Part 2: Imported Ingredients – A Breach of Trust

June 5, 2007

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.



Health Alert: Potentially Harmful Vegetarian Hot Dogs and Power Bars

May 29, 2007

Every day in the United States there are many consumers who may unknowingly consume products with potentially hazardous ingredients – namely, isolated soy protein, soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate etc. This ingredient is found in a wide range of products such as vegetarian hot dogs, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian cheeses, power bars, protein powders, and soy drinks. There are two potential hazards. One is that consumers may unknowingly be consuming soy protein manufactured in China and thus be running the risk of eating foods that are contaminated. The second hazard is that regardless of where the isolated soy protein is from, this is not a healthy ingredient.

Here are the facts:

  • There is a little-known loophole in the consumer protection rules. 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 are several big exceptions to the labeling requirement. One is for products that undergo a “substantial transformation.” For example, a grape jelly manufacturer in the United States may buy Chilean grapes and not have to label their product as having a Chilean origin. Similarly, if a U.S maker uses imported isolated soy protein in their processed products, since the product undergoes a “substantial transformation,” the U.S. producer need not label their products as having imported ingredients.
  • The Chinese are manufacturers and exporters of isolated soy protein. Since there was widespread, deliberate adulteration of vegetable proteins with toxic melamine used in pet food products; one must approach with skepticism any assurances that these products have not been included in human food. Dr. Gary Weaver of the University of Maryland has said, “Uncontrolled distribution of low-quality, imported food ingredients is a great threat to U.S. public health.”
  • Regardless of the purity of the product, isolated soy protein, rather than being a health producing substance as many believe, should be treated as a cheap adulterant. It is a highly manufactured substance and bears little resemblance to healthy soy products such as tofu, miso, and tempeh. Tofu, miso and tempeh have been traditional foods in many Asian societies for thousands of years.

So what can the consumer do?

  • Carefully read the label of products that you are currently using and see if they contain substances such as isolated soy protein.
  • Question whether you need to continue using these products. Be especially careful if you or your children use these products on a daily basis.
  • If you decide that you do need to use them, check if the isolated soy protein is organic. If it is, the chances are excellent that the product is of U.S. origin. Be careful: There are many products that are generally organic, but may have non-organic isolated soy protein.
  • If the product contains non-organic isolated soy protein or similar ingredients, contact the manufacturer and ask for assurances that they are not using imported ingredients without labeling them. Do not buy products from companies that cannot give you these assurances.
  • Eat less processed food, including so-called healthy processed food. Be skeptical of health promoting claims made by manufacturers of processed foods.
  • Finally and most importantly, take responsibility for your own health. Do not assume that you can rely on the government to mandate adequate labeling of food products.


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