WASHINGTON -- In China, some farmers try to maximize the output from their small plots by flooding produce with unapproved pesticides, pumping livestock with antibiotics banned in the United States, and using human feces as fertilizer to boost soil productivity. But the questionable practices don't end there: Chicken pens are frequently suspended over ponds where seafood is raised, recycling chicken waste as a food source for seafood, according to a leading food safety expert who served as a federal adviser to the Food and Drug Administration.
China's suspect agricultural practices could soon affect American consumers. Federal authorities are working on a proposal to allow chickens raised, slaughtered, and cooked in China to be sold here, and under current regulations, store labels do not have to indicate the meat's origin.
Again with the No Labels Required! Remember, our government wants us to buy cloned meat, too, without knowing that we're doing so, since there won't be any labels informing consumers that the meat they're buying comes from the body of a cloned animal. And remember further how Big Ag companies like Monsanto have famously challenged organic dairies' and ice-cream companies' right to label their milk and milk products as hormone-free, stating that so doing implied that their own hormone-laden milk might conceivably have something wrong with it. As if we consumers have no right to know what we are feeding our families and make choices in their best interests, decisions that include rejecting any products we believe to be dangerous or suspect. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro , who strongly supports consumers' right to have food labeled properly, is all over this:
DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and chairwoman of a US House agricultural subcommittee , said Congress should signal its willingness to restrict imports from China until it improves food safety oversight.
"There is deception. There is lax regulation, and they've got unsanitary conditions," DeLauro said. "They need to hear from us they're at risk. Congress has to look at limiting some of their agricultural imports."
The USDA, which shares food safety oversight with the FDA, says its proposal to allow the sale of Chinese chicken is in the early stages and that there will be many opportunities for the public to be heard on the matter. Under the plan, any country seeking to export meat , poultry, or egg products to the United States must earn "equivalency," with documentation that its product is as safe and wholesome as the domestic competition. USDA officials would review records, conduct on-site audits, and confirm that foreign laboratories could ensure the food's safety, said Steven Cohen , a spokesman for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service . The agency would also inspect imported products as they enter the nation, he said.
Now, the USDA has considerably more muscle (and a fatter budget) than the FDA, but forgive me if I don't put a whole lot of faith in those promises of tightly-controlled inspections. I'm especially concerned about our government saying they will "confirm that foreign laboratories could ensure the food's safety".
All an unscrupulous chicken exporter would need to do is set up some company and give it a nice, science-y name like, oh, Acme Biologic Technology, let's say. Then, he could purchase some industrial, lab-like building--maybe an abandoned processing plant that hasn't yet been bulldozed to destroy evidence--fill it with stainless-steel tables and inspection equipment, and use it to "certify" the Chinese poultry as safe. Until the USDA's attention wanders, and like the chicken waste that drips into many Chinese shrimp ponds, the inspection process devolves into a foul, dangerous mess.
Ensure the food's safety? In a land where conditions like this exist?
In China's agricultural system, many farmers toil on 1-acre plots, while US farmers often work thousands of acres, said Michael Doyle , director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia and former chairman of the FDA's science advisory board.
In China, "there are hundreds of thousands of these little farms," Doyle said. "They have small ponds. And over the ponds -- in not all cases, but in many cases -- they'll have chicken cages. It might be like 20,000 chickens in cages. The chicken feces is what feeds the shrimp."
The USDA has found that up to 10 percent of shrimp imported from China contains salmonella, he said. Even more worrisome are shrimp imported from China that contain antibiotics that no amount of cooking can neutralize. Last month alone, the FDA rejected 51 shipments of catfish , eel , shrimp, and tilapia imported from China because of such contaminants as salmonella , veterinary drugs, and nitrofuran , a cancer-causing chemical.
You can write to Congresswoman DeLauro via her Website.
Also at Shakesville.