Saturday, May 26, 2007

Saturday Frank: Prague 1990, With Václav Havel; On Cultural Matters, Censorship, And The Police State

From his Wiki page:

In early 1990, Zappa visited Czechoslovakia at the request of President Václav Havel, a lifelong fan, and was asked by Havel to serve as consultant for the government on trade, cultural matters and tourism. Zappa enthusiastically agreed and began meeting with corporate officials interested in investing in Czechoslovakia. Within a few weeks, however, the US administration put pressure on the Czech government to withdraw the appointment. Havel made Zappa an unofficial cultural attaché instead.

This appears to be raw footage shot during Frank's visit. And it's magnificent--just great to watch, whether or not you speak Czech*. The conversations are in English, though occasional bits of commentary in Czech (I think) are dotted throughout. While in Prague, Frank meets with President Vaclav Havel and speaks to an enthusiastic audience about censorship, privacy, and the role of the Police State in America; he then launches into a rendition of Love Of My Life.

(H/T marigoldmerion)

*I don't.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Frank: Whipping Post (By Greg Allman), 1981

My sentiments exactly, much of the time, and at the end of this week in particular. That's all I'm saying.

Oh yes, and this: the video features yet another classic Frank solo capable of turning around a really bad mood. And Steve Vai and Chad Wackerman play and sing.

May eveyone enjoy an inspiring and safe three-day Memorial Weekend, with warm wishes and thanks going out to those men and women who spend every day in a dangerous land, separated from their loved ones by this very wrong war; who continue to risk life and limb at the incomprehensible, unconscionable behest of the White House.

(H/T Orv39)

Food Safety This Friday: Imported Monkfish That Are Really Puffer Fish Predictably Contain Deadly Neurotoxin

This morning, after my daily reading of food safety news (well, as much of a reading as I could stomach, at least), I shook my head for the umpteenth time and wondered aloud, What next?

You'd think I would have learned by now. Anyway, I've highlighted the extra-disturbing parts for those who are in a hurry. Here, read:

WASHINGTON -- A frozen product labeled monkfish distributed in three states is being recalled after two Chicago area people became ill after eating it, the importer announced Thursday.

Hong Chang Corporation of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., said it is recalling the product labeled as monkfish because it may contain tetrodotoxin, a potent toxin.

While the frozen fish imported from China was labeled monkfish, the company said it is concerned that it may be pufferfish because this toxin is usually associated with certain types of pufferfish.

Eating foods containing tetrodotoxin can result in life-threatening illness or death and the toxin cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing.


Consumers who have purchased this monkfish can return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. Care should be exercised in handling the fish as the tetrodotoxin may be present on the skin and flesh of the fish. Wash hands thoroughly after handling.

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-562-309-0068.

People who may have consumed these products and have concerns are encouraged to contact their health care provider. Illnesses associated with consumption of these products should be reported to the nearest FDA district offices and to the local health authority.

This latest episode in a long, sorry series of toxic import sagas is shocking, yes, but the actual consequences of all profit-driven malfeasance--mislabeling cheaper and oftentimes poisonous ingredients, to name just one example--are hardly surprising. If these frozen "monkfish" are actually puffer fish being handled as monkfish, there will be tetrodotoxin all over the place.

The FDA pulls no punches in its press release (dated May 24); much of the language is genuinely chilling:

FDA Warning on Mislabeled Monkfish
Fish Believed to be Puffer Fish; Contains Deadly Toxin

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to buy or eat imported fish labeled as monkfish, which actually may be puffer fish, containing a potentially deadly toxin called tetrodotoxin. Eating puffer fish that contain this potent toxin can result in serious illness or death.


Two people in the Chicago area became ill after consuming homemade soup containing the fish. One was hospitalized due to severe illness.

FDA's analysis of the fish confirmed the presence of potentially life-threatening levels of tetrodotoxin.

Initial symptoms of tetrodotoxin poisoning occur 30 minutes to several hours after food containing the toxin is consumed. Tetrotoxin poisoning is characterized initially by tingling of the lips and tongue. Tingling of the face and extremities and numbness follow. Subsequent symptoms may include headache, balance problems, excessive salivation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Consumers experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical care and are encouraged to report their illness to local health authorities. In severe cases, muscles can become paralyzed, and death may follow from respiratory muscle paralysis.

A total of 282 22-pound boxes labeled as monkfish were distributed to wholesalers in Illinois, California and Hawaii beginning in September 2006. These fish were then sold to restaurants or sold in stores. In one instance, the retailer labeled the fish as "bok," the Korean name for puffer fish.

It's illegal in the U.S., with very few highly-restricted exceptions, but in other countries--Japan in particular--puffer fish are served as fugu,
the inexplicably popular, wildly expensive, and potentially lethal sashimi dish the preparation and serving of which can only lawfully be undertaken by licensed Japanese fugu chefs. Because that mad treat can kill if it's not prepared absolutely correctly and with surgical precision:

Since 1958, only specially licensed chefs can prepare and sell fugu to the public. The fugu apprentice needs a two- or three-year apprenticeship before being allowed to take an official test. The test consists of a written test, a fish identification test, and a practical test of preparing fugu and then eating it. Only 30% of the applicants pass the test. This, of course, does not mean that 70% die from poisoning; rather, they made a small mistake in the long and complicated procedure of preparing the dish. Due to this rigorous examination process, it is generally safe to eat the sliced fugu sold in restaurants or markets.

Furthermore, most fugu sold nowadays comes from fish with only a small amount of toxin. Selling or serving the most toxic liver is illegal in Japan, but this "forbidden fruit" is still sometimes eaten by amateur cooks, often with fatal results. After the years following Japan's defeat in World War II, when several homeless people died from eating fugu organs that had been discarded into insecure trashcans, restaurants in Japan were required to store the poisonous inner organs in specially locked barrels that are later burned as hazardous waste.

Hazardous waste is an understatement. About that tetrodotoxin:

Tetrodotoxin is an exceptionally lethal poison. Tetrodotoxin is approximately 1200 times deadlier than cyanide. In animal studies with mice, 8 μg tetrodotoxin per kilogram of body weight killed 50% of the mice (see also LD50). It is estimated that a single puffer has enough poison to kill 30 adult humans.

A couple of things, in my view, can't be said often enough: One, we must do whatever it takes to properly fund and staff the FDA. And that might mean reworking the entire structure of the regulatory powers and processes, creating a single formidable agency where several weaker ones existed before. If such an organization could wield meaningful authority, and operate with an acceptable and legally-mandated level of transparency, I'd be all for it. When you consider the volume of imported foodstuff that lands in the U.S. every day, remembering the various import alerts--some of them active over a decade--already in place against a number of countries, it is simply not logical to rely on, or even expect, a guarantee of poison-free dining when only 1% of imported foods and ingredients get inspected.

And two, Americans want and need accurate information about the contents and origins of our food. If a country has an official and recorded history of shipping poisoned, mislabeled, adulterated, rotten, or otherwise toxic food into the United States, American consumers deserve the right to decide if they're willing to take the risk, the right to make their concerns known at the grocery store, and the right to hold accountable those who would and do harm us, whether intentionally or as a consequence of institutionalized, profit-driven malfeasance.

It's important to note that Country Of Origin Labels (COOL) legislation is only one way to uphold the notion of accountability. Indeed, it's rather obvious that trade agreements must be revisited, too: strict compliance with U.S health and safety standards should, from this day forward, be a non-negotiable, loophole-free requirement for anyone wishing to export to America. Further, said countries must vow to see to it that visiting U.S. inspectors are afforded full access to any and all physical plants and appropriate records in order to enforce this compliance; delays and denials would risk tangible penalties and threaten the country's trading privileges.

Despite its widespread support among Americans, demonstrated in poll after poll with 82% in favor of mandatory Country Of Origin Labels, the usual suspects--in other words, those powerful, deep-pocket-boasting interests that government unfortunately listens to--have fought COOL tooth and nail, and they've been largely successful. Between 2002 and 2004, the American Farm Bureau Federation amassed $11,840,000 in lobbying expenses aimed at defeating COOL; Wal-Mart's lobbying expenditures toward the same end were $2,760,000. Predictably, all that money effort translated into a (so-far) three year delay of the labeling laws, with no implementation deadline set and none in sight--not unless consumers speak out.

You can contact members of the U.S. Senate here, and the House of Representatives here.

A Question Congress Should Be Asking

"So, Ms. Goodling, which is it--Caymans or Bahamas?"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Food Safety Briefing: Restrictions on Imported Food Urged; Trade Ambassador Pressured; A Florida Family Reels; From Whence Cometh Garlic?

U.S. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, in letters to President Bush and the head of the FDA Monday, called for a crackdown on exporters sending adulterated and otherwise toxic or dangerous food, medicines, and ingredients into the United States:

WASHINGTON – The United States should yank away the “welcome” sign for many Chinese food and medicine ingredients, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., told President Bush and the head of the Food and Drug Administration in letters he sent Monday.

Recent animal deaths have been blamed on pet food containing an ingredient imported from China that was contaminated with melamine, a plastic precursor used as a fertilizer. Feed tainted with the same imported ingredient was sent to 38 Hoosier poultry operations.


Even though scientists have concluded that the risk to humans from the chickens fed the tainted feed is very low, Bayh told Bush that the episode illustrates how vulnerable U.S. consumers are “to potentially poisonous agents that may be intentionally delivered to American citizens.”

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, Bayh said the FDA should consider restricting Chinese exports of food and medicine ingredients “until it can be established that its bulk ingredients meet U.S. health and safety standards.”

Bayh did not say how the guarantee would be met.

I'm glad another Senator has added his voice to the small-but-growing chorus of criticisms surrounding the regulatory agency (the FDA) that by its own admission inspects only 1% (or "less than 2%", depending on who's talking) of all imports; I'm especially heartened to hear Bayh point out the melamine elephant in the room--that is, how unnervingly vulnerable we are--and even utter the phrase "...potentially poisonous agents [that may be] intentionally delivered to American citizens”. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill. and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-CT continue to address food safety and consumer information issues: Senator Durbin testified before Congress about the FDA's current state--there are too many imports pouring in for agents who are far too few in number, to name just one obvious problem--and Congresswoman DeLauro urged the enactment of tougher product labeling laws, including Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) and clear notification if a meat or poultry product came from a cloned animal or its progeny.

On May 10th, the two leaders co-wrote a terse and forthright letter to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab (my emphasis):

Dear Ambassador Schwab:

We are writing in light of the recently discovered contamination of imported wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate used to manufacture pet food in the United States.


The safety of food imports from China extends beyond the pet food recall. China is especially poor at meeting international food safety standards, which is particularly disturbing considering that China exported approximately $2.26 billion in agricultural products to the United States in 2006. A recent news article noted that, in February, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blocked the entry of several food products from China because they contained banned additives, were tainted by pesticides or were contaminated with salmonella. Some products were simply unsanitary.

The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is involved in these matters because regional, bilateral, and international trade agreements entered into by the United States often include sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures. For example, there are two World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements that deal with food safety and animal and plant health and safety. We understand that these provisions allow countries to set their own standards but require countries to base regulations on science and encourage countries to use international guidelines where they exist.

Our concern is whether the USTR has the ability to challenge the sanitary and phytosanitary standards of our trading partners based on evidence that they are not meeting international standards and may be endangering public health in the United States.

This issue is particularly important as U.S. agricultural imports are predicted to reach a record $69 billion in FY 2007. If we are to continue at this rate, we must ask important questions about the food safety standards of our trade partners to ensure our nation's public health is not compromised.

Developing countries often lack sufficient regulations, monitoring, and enforcement of SPS regulations. China, for instance, has come under scrutiny in the past for an overall lack of transparency and failure to properly adhere to SPS measures required by the World Trade Organization.

While we understand the importance of the United States' involvement in international trade, participation in these trade relations should not come at the expense of animal or human health.

Therefore, we request answers to the following questions—

1) What sanitary and phytosanitary measures are included in current free trade agreements and other permanent trade relations in which the United States is currently engaged?

2) What legal recourse does the United States possess with respect to imported food products that pose a threat to public health, in the event that the country where the offending product originated is not cooperative?

Incidentally, neither of the two Senators from Florida--Mel Martinez (R) and Bill Nelson (D)--mentions food safety or labeling issues on his website, though the Sunshine State has an obvious stake in both issues: in terms of the size of its contribution to Florida's GDP, agriculture is second only to tourism. And many Floridians, along with families and farmers in the other 49 states, have already been profoundly affected by the melamine-adulterated pet food and animal feed. This family, for example:

If it's not trips to the vet, it's the nightly ritual of injecting a feeding tube intravenously into the animals. Without the daily fluid pack that hangs above the laundry room dryer, Libby faces certain death.

Two of their four cats already have died. All four have suffered kidney disease their veterinarian attributes to contaminated pet food.

The food, Nutro Max Gourmet Classics, did not appear at first on the ever-growing national recall list, and Cmar thought all was well. But then Nutro Max's manufacturer issued a recall, and Gourmet Classics joined hundreds of other products being blamed for the illness and deaths of thousands of cats and dogs nationwide.

Cmar has spent almost $10,000 trying to save Libby and her family's three other cats. Cmar, who runs a small business from home, charged much of it to her Visa card.

As bills mount, she finds herself at a crossroads: continue spending thousands to save Libby? Or does that just prolong the animal's suffering?

"I'm an anxiety-ridden mess," says Cmar, as she weighs the financial issues and the concern that her 4-year-old son, Matthew, and 1-year-old daughter, Maudaline, won't understand the continued loss of their pets.

Lastly, a recent USA Today article about food safety and questionable imports offers some interesting data:

The overall dollar figures for food imports into the USA from China are high — $29 million worth of fresh or frozen fruit and $131 million worth of fresh or frozen vegetables in 2006, according to the USDA. But "the share of the U.S. food supply that comes from China is tiny, probably less than 1%," said Fred Gale, a senior economist with the China team at the USDA's Economic Research Service.


But that doesn't mean the average American isn't eating food from China, and some surprising ones at that. If you season with garlic, sip apple juice, spread honey or savor fish dishes, there's a good chance you're buying food from China.

Garlic: More than 50%

China produces 75% of the world's garlic, according to the FAO. Last year was the first year in which U.S. consumers bought more garlic produced in China than garlic grown in California, said Bill Christopher, owner of Christopher Ranch, a major grower of garlic in Gilroy, Calif. California grows "99.9% of U.S. garlic," he said.

"There were roughly 150 million pounds of fresh and peeled garlic from California sold in the U.S. in 2006 and 170 million pounds from China," he said.

Chinese garlic is easily recognized, he said. "In California we cut the roots off but we leave a little bit of a brush. In Chinese garlic they cut the root plate off flat, with no brush."

California garlic farmer, author, and English professor Chester Aaron recommends seeking out domestically-grown garlic:

...thanks to a persistent garlic fungus in the nutrient-robbed soil, rock-bottom pricing and a loophole in U.S. trade law, most of the garlic sold in the United States has been grown in foreign soil. China grows two-thirds of the world's garlic, while California is currently responsible for just two percent.


China has been the particular focus of legislation designed to prevent "dumping," in which exporters introduce garlic to the U.S. market at prices significantly lower than their stated production costs. At the urging of American farmers, federal trade officials agreed to levy a 377 percent duty on imported garlic in 1994. Under pressure from free-trade advocates, officials revised the ruling a year later, to lower tariffs on "new" shippers who were not involved in the original investigation. Foreign shippers have had to merely form new companies in order to avoid the tariffs, thereby freeing themselves to continue dumping their product into the U.S. market. Accordingly, the volume of Chinese garlic in the U.S. market has increased more than ten-fold since 2000, forcing California garlic farmers to sell off vast tracts of land in order to survive. Since 2001, Christopher Ranch has put 40 percent of its garlic fields out of commission.

Aaron says that China, along with fellow exporters Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico, are all using pesticides and herbicides banned in, and inherited from, the United States. "There aren't enough inspectors at the borders to check all the garlic that comes in from around the world, and the chances are that what you buy in most markets has been heavily sprayed," says Aaron. He recalls happening upon a bushel basket of purple-skinned garlic in a local organic grocery a few years ago. A shop clerk told him it had been organically grown in Monterrey, but he recognized the "grower's" name as an importer who sells Mexican garlic. Aaron bought a bulb and passed it along to a chemist friend at Berkeley. A few days later she called to tell him that the supposedly organic garlic contained several varieties of chemicals banned in the U.S. A representative from the Food and Drug Administration, contacted for this story, reports that there are no instances on record of garlic shipments from Mexico being turned away because they've contained banned sprays, which neither confirms nor refutes Aaron's claim. "The best advice I can give is to buy from a reputable farmer or grow your own," says Aaron.

Until we have mandatory labels here in the States, concerned consumers will have to ask the friendly produce manager about the origins of the store's garlic inventory or take their chances with pesticide residue on the imported bulbs--pesticide that may well be banned, or in the process of being phased-out, in the U.S., but which the chemical giants continue to produce and sell to farmers abroad, who in turn apply it to garlic and other produce that winds up back in America's food chain.

More on the issue of pesticide inheriting soon.

(H/T JayMonster; Lisa in Baltimore.)

Also at Shakesville.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

It's Time For America To Legislate Mandatory Country Of Origin Labels

Yesterday's New York Times brought some gruesome news: the toxic Chinese fake-glycerin (diethylene glycol, also known as antifreeze) that I wrote about earlier this month has turned up in Panama--in toothpaste.

Diethylene glycol, a poisonous ingredient in some antifreeze, has been found in 6,000 tubes of toothpaste in Panama, and customs officials there said yesterday that the product appeared to have originated in China.

“Our preliminary information is that it came from China, but we don’t know that with certainty yet,” said Daniel Delgado Diamante, Panama’s director of customs. “We are still checking all the possible imports to see if there could be other shipments.”

Some of the toothpaste, which arrived several months ago in the free trade zone next to the Panama Canal, was re-exported to the Dominican Republic in seven shipments, customs officials said. A newspaper in Australia reported yesterday that one brand of the toothpaste had been found on supermarket shelves there and had been recalled.

Diethylene glycol is the same poison that the Panamanian government inadvertently mixed into cold medicine last year, killing at least 100 people. Records show that in that episode the poison, falsely labeled as glycerin, a harmless syrup, also originated in China.

There is no evidence that the tainted toothpaste is in the United States, according to American government officials.

There is no evidence that the tainted toothpaste is in the United States. Nonetheless, after the food adulteration disaster of recent months during which thousands of pets died and many Americans quite rightly began to consider--some for the first time--that their own food might not be as safe to consume as they imagined, this sort of disturbing news causes one to re-think every grocery-store purchase. And while I am an avid label-reader myself, I'll be the first to agree that we are not all organic chemists accustomed to remembering--and then ferreting out--seventeen-syllable chemical names on labels. It isn't realistic, or even fair, to expect all consumers to stand there in our grocery and drug store aisles, reading paragraph after paragraph of minuscule type, trying to determine if this toothpaste or that cough syrup might kill our families. Not only that, it wouldn't matter, in many cases, if we did: the ingredients may say one thing (i.e. glycerin), but the contents could contain something else entirely--like poisonous antifreeze.

The FDA has proven ineffective in protecting our food supply, admitting they inspect less than 2% of imported foods and food ingredients. So, I'm recommending--urgently--that we all pressure our representatives in government to push COOL (Country Of Origin Labeling) legislation into law as quickly as possible. Let consumers decide if we're willing to trust the product safety policies of countries halfway around the world--countries that saturate farmed shrimp with dangerous antibiotics and spike their animal feed (and possibly grain meant for human consumption, too) with ground up melamine scrap and prohibit their citizens from accessing the news and information we in the States take for granted. You know, free market and all.

Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority of Americans--82%--support COOL. And equally unsurprisingly, many of the big players are against it, stating that it would be far too onerous and expensive for them to print a few words or sentences on labels and let us know the national origin(s) of what went into our cereals and sinus medicines:

Although polls indicate that the overwhelming majority – 82 percent – of Americans want to know where our food is coming from, Big Food and Washington bureaucrats have united to deny us this right.

Lobbyists for corporate agribusiness such as the American Farm Bureau; giant food manufacturers such as Cargill, Smithfield and Con-Agra; and supermarket chains have handed over millions of dollars to an industry-indentured Congress to keep us in the dark about the “country of origin” of the hundreds of billions of dollars of foods we buy every year in supermarkets or consume in restaurants.

Shocked by media reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspects only 1 percent of all imported food shipments, increasing numbers of health-minded consumers have complained to their elected public officials. They are demanding that the government increase food-safety inspections – which unfortunately have been reduced by nearly 50 percent under the Bush administration – and require mandatory country of origin labels for foods.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitting that Americans suffer from more than 78 million cases of food poisoning every year, resulting in 5,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations, food safety and lax government regulation have become an important issue for many consumers.

Bear in mind that some of these same American interests who also export to Europe somehow manage to squeeze a few words about their products' origins in between New And Improved! and Now More Chocolate-y Than Ever when labeling goods meant for those destinations, since country-of-origin labels are required by law in EU countries and elsewhere around the world:

Europe and most other industrialized nations require mandatory country of origin labels on food. Reacting to the long-standing concerns of their constituents, reflected in polls indicating that 80 percent of Americans want country of origin food labels, Congress finally incorporated such labels into the 2002 Farm Bill, supposedly to go into effect in September 2004.

Unfortunately, corporate agribusiness and supermarket chains bribed an ethically impaired Congress with millions of dollars in campaign contributions to block implementation of the labels.

It's a matter of greed economics more than anything else--they're afraid that if American consumers find out how many of their purchases contain ingredients from countries with spotty safety records, many if not most of us will start getting uppity, refusing to buy products and foodstuffs that are packed with cheap and potentially dangerous fillers and chemicals, and take our dollars elsewhere, spending them on products that offer what we want, without the rubbish we don't want. So they bribe lobby our congresspeople (emphasis mine):

Deep pockets influenced Washington as industry lobbyists blocked COOL, with the exception of seafood. Lobbying expenditures by groups that opposed COOL between 2000 and 2004 include American Farm Bureau Federation: $11,840,000, and Wal-Mart: $2,760,000. The Goliaths of Agribusiness thus undercut our right to know the source of our food, despite 82 percent consumer support for the idea. Along with over 200 organizations, the National Family Farm Coalition sent a letter to Congress urging our elected officials to finally implement COOL as of September 2007 and end the backdoor delays. So while my T-shirt tag informs me it was from Bangladesh, darned if I can place the hamburger sizzling on my grill.

I don't mean to sound melodramatic; rather, I'm trying to say all this with the kind of passion and emphasis required to bring about meaningful change: the elections of 2008 offer America unprecedented potential to effect real, positive change for us all--in this as well as many respects. Regardless of our individual politics, we're all consumers of products that, increasingly, come from sources around the globe. As such, it's absolutely vital that we use our voices and votes, and do so in numbers large enough to overwhelm the deep-pocketed interests who currently dictate policy.

Tell Congress in no uncertain terms that you, the American consumer and voter, want Country Of Origin Labels (COOL) legislation enacted immediately. You can contact members of the U.S. Senate here, and the House of Representatives here.

Also at Shakesville and Ezra's place.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Frank: Watermelon In Easter Hay, 1988

I'm in a reflective mood these days, and more often than not, I find myself reaching for time-travel music. Sometimes the memories are funny; other times, they need accompaniment that's meditative and properly fluid. Melancholy, even.

Frank's gently weeping Watermelon In Easter Hay is one such wistful melody, the perfect soundtrack for tea and raindrops.

Bon Weekend, everyone.

(H/T boondock78)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chinese Government: Says Don't Worry, Eat Happy, Keep Importing And Bans Litbrit

The government of the People's Republic of China--the same folks who have blocked their citizens' access to my blog, as well as Shakesville, HorsesAss, and an enormous number of American websites--claim they have conducted their investigations and found that the practice of melamine-adulteration was limited to a couple of individual companies. Therefore, they state, Americans can once again have confidence in the safety of China's exported food and ingredients.

The FDA is apparently buying it, so to speak, despite reports from actual Chinese farmers and individuals who've admitted that melamine-spiking of animal feed and grains is commonplace and has been going on since the early 1990's, when the previous method of cheating--urea-spiking--was exposed by lab tests.

SHANGHAI, China — China says further checks on food exporters have turned up no sign of a chemical blamed in the pet deaths in North America, and urged U.S. authorities not to take additional measures against Chinese producers.

The government body responsible for overseeing food safety said it accompanied U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors on visits to two companies blamed for the chemical contamination on May 8-12 following the publication of the results of China's own investigation.

The incidents involving Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd. and Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd. were "special individual cases," the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in a statement viewed on its Web site Wednesday.


The statement said FDA inspectors also expressed satisfaction with the quality controls and tracing measures in place at another exporter of vegetable protein, Sinoglory, saying those met U.S. production standards for similar products.

"China emphasizes that its determination to crackdown on law breaking enterprises is firm and its policies are effective," said the statement.

"We hope the American side will accurately and objectively deal with problems among individual companies and not take stringent measures against other Chinese companies producing the same type of products," it said.

And not take stringent measures against other Chinese companies... Oh, I don't think Chinese officials need to worry too much. Not only is the US government not doing any banning of Chinese grains, they're actually discussing--seriously!--importing their poultry. Besides, we kind of owe them, don't we?

Also at Shakesville.

Monday, May 14, 2007

UAE: No Melamine In Food, Please, And No Food On Melamine, Either.

Health officials in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) are issuing a novel melamine warning to their citizens today: Don't eat or drink from it. Apparently, consuming substances that are stored in or served on plates, cups, and bowls made from the hard, formadlehyde-produced polymer may be hazardous to one's health:

Dubai: Beware of eating on cheap melamine dining plates as they contain a substance harmful to health, the Dubai Municipality has warned.

“We have issued an official circular banning import and sale of some cheap melamine plate and cups containing urea formaldehyde, which is hazardous to health,” said Salah Amiri, director of Municipality’s Dubai Central Laboratory.

He said the civic body has also launched a campaign to confiscate melamine tableware, which contain urea formaldehyde and do not comply with the UAE standards and specifications.

He said that urea formaldehyde, which is commonly used for making casings for electrical appliances and also used as insulation material, is an acidic foaming agent and is not suitable for public health. It can harm human digestive system in addition to creating problems in the respiratory system.

Also at Shakesville.

Ex-Largo City Manager Stanton Braves The Cameras

Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford

Susan (nee Steve) Stanton reaches an important mile-marker in her courageous odyssey: her First Photograph.

She had spent years planning for this day. In the last month, she had frantically built a wardrobe, learned makeup, fretted over her too-short hair. She thought she looked good. Pretty. Professional.

Her debut would come after four decades of self-examination, in the dust of a leader's best-laid plans, in the remnants of her family. It glowed with the promise of possibility. Like new skin.

But what if others didn't see her the way she saw herself?

She had already lost her job, her friends and her home -- the things that gave her an identity -- for admitting she wasn't the person they knew. Now that she was showing them a second self, would they reject that person too?

She knew that some people would never even see Susan Ashley Stanton.

They would see a man in a dress.

Shedding a life usually means starting over, quietly, somewhere else. Slip town. Get a new job in a place no one knows your name.

For Steve Stanton, that wasn't an option.

(I think Susan looks terrific, by the way, especially when you remember all she's been through this year alone.)

Also at Shakesville and Pushing Rope.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

My Mother

When my maternal grandmother died in 1980, I wrote this poem as an ode to my Mum, whose brave rejection of traditional dogma--hers was, and is, an individual and intellectual take on matters spiritual--I'd known (and often aspired to) since babyhood, though competing voices always hummed in the background. You see, my mother chose our schools for their academic muscle, not their church affiliations; that meant, over the course of living in various parts of the hemisphere, that we were exposed to wildy divergent belief systems along the way. At twenty, I thought I knew everything. Loss made me reflect and reconsider. I never did find a concrete answer, but I knew, as I wrote this, that losing Nanny had made me love and appreciate her daughter--my own dear mother--that much more.

My Mother

I think she said to me, one time,
A cynic always she'd remain;
To laugh at hymns in perfect rhyme
And ridicule the rough refrain

Of voices. Hers, a twisted cry
Above the congregation floats
As they await the Broken Lie
To crumble in their sinful throats.

The circles lilies that they sent
Were cruel, she said, though sweet, though bright--
For they were never flowers meant,
But compensations for one's plight.

I think I'll tell her she was right,
For now I'm twenty and I see:
Their Man In Charge can end the light.
He took her mother away from me.

-- DNT 1980

Saturday, May 12, 2007

China And The USDA: If You Liked Our Chemical-laced Crunchy Grains, You'll Love Our Putrid Plump Poulty!

Apparently, it isn't enough that our pets have been poisoned and unknown amounts of ground plastic scrap and swimming-pool chemicals are floating around in America's human food supply. Oh no--US authorities are currently working on a proposal that would permit chickens that are grown, slaughtered, and cooked in China to be exported to the US, where we currently produce almost all poultry domestically. It's utterly unbelievable:

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".

Yeah, right.

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.

(H/T oddjob)

Also at Shakesville.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Birthday (One Day Late) Roberto!

"The more boring a child is, the more the parents, when showing off the child, receive adulation for being good parents--because they have a Tame Child Creature in their house. The worst aspect of "typical familyism"--as media-merchandised--is that it glorifies involuntary homogenization."

-- Frank Zappa

No fear of any Tame Child Creatures or involuntary homogenization invading our wild kingdom, huh? Wishing you another year full of thrills, chills, and light-and-fluffy pancakes. And love.


Food Adulteration Update: Chinese Grain Producer Demolished Own Plant And Fled Before Arrest; Website Pulled Down

Well, Chinese authorities may have two individuals in custody--it was two when I last checked, at least--but it remains to be seen if there is even any evidence remaining for recently-arrived FDA officials to investigate, since one of the detainees was an owner, and he personally bulldozed the melamine-spiking grain processing plant himself last month:

XUZHOU, China -- Before Mao Lijun's business exported tainted wheat products that may have killed U.S. pets, his factory sickened people and plants around here for years.

Farmers in this poor rural area 400 miles northwest of Shanghai had complained to local government officials since 2004 that Mao's factory was spewing noxious fumes that made their eyes tear up and the poplar trees nearby shed their leaves prematurely. Yet no one stopped Mao's company from churning out bags of food powders and belching smoke -- until one day last month when, in the middle of the night, bulldozers tore down the facility.

It wasn't authorities that finally acted: Mao himself razed the brick factory -- days before the investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration arrived in China on a mission to track down the source of the tainted pet food ingredients.

U.S. inspectors said Thursday the suspect facilities had been hastily closed down.

"There is nothing to be found. They are essentially shut down and not operating," said Walter Batts, deputy director of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) office of international programs.

Chinese officials caught Mao; after weeks of denials, he admitted that his company and another Chinese business had deliberately and illegally added melamine to exported wheat and rice products. I don't even want to speculate how Mr. Mao's, ah, confessin' state of mind overcame the greater devils that had him making his fortune shoveling melamine into food meant for American (and reportedly Chinese) animals and humans and then destroying the evidence. I'm sure it wasn't pretty.

Melamine producers in China have said that melamine scrap, a cheaper form of the chemical, has been widely sold to entrepreneurs who use it to fool farmers into thinking that they were getting higher-nutrient animal feeds. Among the apparent buyers of melamine scrap were Mao, head of Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development, and Binzhou Futian Biology Technology.

Liu Zhaoyi, 64, a farmer who lives next to Mao's now-demolished factory, recalled seeing globs of white and yellowish scrap, which may have included melamine, piled in the yard behind the plant. One season after rains, Liu said, water with residue from the compound flowed into his family's cornfields and killed the crops.

Few people in town, which has a large food-manufacturing industry, seemed to know what Mao's factory made.

An Environment Protection Bureau official in Pei county, which is a part of Xuzhou, said one of his colleagues had visited Mao's facility in recent years when it was processing yeast and wheat. The inspection did not turn up any serious violations, and neighbors were told to complain to a court or another agency.

In recent days, Mao's company removed wheat gluten from the product offerings on its Web site. It also deleted something called ESB protein powder.

Xuzhou Anying had advertised the powder as its "latest researched, developed and produced" item and touted it as "a new way to solve the problem of shortage of protein resource." Several people with experience in China's food industry say such powders are invariably made with melamine.

I was curious to see what changes Xuzhou Anying had made to its website, so I went to my bookmark file, and lo and behold, the site has evaporated (although the global trading portal Fuzing has not removed their page about the company). But I did take a screenshot when I visited the contaminated-gluten makers back on April 30th, and this is what it looked like:

And here is what the product page looked like before the site was pulled:

Potential customers could read about the now-razed business and its wares:

Our company is a multiplex technological enterprise with research, production, distribution, which exports biologic feed, feed additive, Corn Protein Powder, fresh preserved vegetables, and so on.

Oxymorons aside (fresh preserved vegetables?), what jumped off the page lo these eleven days later were the chilling phrases feed additive and Corn Protein Powder. Those, and the handy catch-all and so on.

One strawberry tart without too much And So On in it later, the FDA are chasing powdery ghosts in a foreign land while their Stateside colleagues stay busy issuing one Import Alert after another.

Also at Shakesville.

Blogger At Forefront Of Food Adulteration Story Gets Banned In China

Prominent Seattle blogger David Goldstein of HorsesAss--better known to many as Goldy--has, from the early days of the food adulteration crisis, been an important voice and resource, reporting regularly on the melamine and cyanuric acid-adulterated grains from China that have sickened and killed thousands of animals here and made their way into the human food supply, too. Yesterday, Goldy discovered he'd been banned in that country, or rather, that access to his online writings had been blocked to any readers and interested parties residing in the People's Republic. Goldy observes:

Blogging can be a lonely, thankless avocation, but there are those little things that make it all worthwhile. An appreciative comment or email. The occasional donation. Getting banned by the Chinese government.

During the six weeks I’ve dogged the pet food recall story, I’ve often grown frustrated with my failure to raise a louder alarm that melamine-tainted Chinese imports may have widely contaminated the human food supply, but yesterday I learned that my hard work has not gone entirely unnoticed. Sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday the Chinese government blocked Internet access to, apparently fearful of what its citizens might learn of their own unregulated food supply — like the fact that Chinese vegetable proteins and livestock feed are routinely adulterated with scrap melamine and scrap cyanuric acid, and that in addition to renal failure, chronic exposure may cause cancer and reproductive damage. You know, stuff like that.


That Chinese authorities would bother blocking a Washington state political blog because I’ve covered their food safety scandal a little too closely, says something about the total disregard they have for the health and welfare of their own people. And perhaps it says something about their growing unease over the details of this scandal that have yet to come to light.

Either way, it reassures me that I’m on the right track.

Also at Shakesville.

Friday Frank: Chunga's Revenge, 1980

It looks like most of the usual suspects are on stage with him, but for the most part, this one's all Frank--Frank and some pretty glorious guitar work, I should say. This footage is twenty-seven years old, and it's unclear where it was filmed. Even given the rough video quality, though, you'll enjoy seeing Mr. Zappa at his intense best--there are closeups on his long, bony fingers as they fly around the frets, as well as on his utterly focused expression as he creates another of what guitarist Steve Vai termed sonic sculptures.

Bon Weekend, everyone!

(H/T boondock78.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Start Spreading The News

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer distills the argument for marriage equality--and does so with grace and authority--in a written Statement in Support, part of his 2007 bill memo to amend domestic relations law. Go and read it--it's beyond uplifting.

Statement in Support:

The "freedom to marry" is, in the words of the United States Supreme Court, "one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free [people]." In New York, however, certain couples who seek to exercise this freedom, and partake of its rights and responsibilities by mutual consent, may not do so solely because they are of the same sex. The bar against same-sex marriages exists regardless of how long the individuals have lived together, or whether they are raising children through legally-recognized joint custody arrangements. This bill removes the barriers in New York law that deprive individuals of the equal right to marry the person of their choice, by granting the same legal recognition to all civil marriages regardless of whether those who enter into them are of the same, or of a different, sex.

There's lots more.

(H/T Allan.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Food Adulteration Update: Farmed Fish Given Tainted Meal; China Cracks Down; Ordinary Flour (With Melamine) Labeled As Gluten

Put down that salmon fillet you were about to marinate for dinner: the FDA has just announced that an unspecified number of aquaculture facilities have fed melamine-spiked feed to fish, and it is unclear how many of the creatures are already on their way to America's kitchens and restaurants:

TUESDAY, May 8 (HealthDay News) -- After finding its way to America's dinner tables via pork and chicken, the melamine contaminant in recalled pet food may have also been fed to farmed fish, federal health officials announced Tuesday.

Levels of melamine in the fish are probably far too small to affect human health, stressed officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The FDA has so far not disclosed which fish farms received the contaminated food, or how many fish, of what type, may have eaten it.

"We have a preliminary list of fish farms, but I can't share it with you," Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection, told reporters at a teleconference.

It's also not clear how much of the potentially tainted fish -- if any -- has made it to supermarkets.

Meanwhile, China announces it has detained a second individual on charges related to the food adulteration and mislabeling, this time from the Binzhou Futian Biology Technology:

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- The manager of the Chinese company suspected of selling tainted wheat flour to the United States has been detained for nearly two weeks outside Beijing, CNN has learned.

Tian Feng is the manager of Binzhou Futian Biology Technology, which U.S. pet food distributors have identified as the company that sold them wheat flour -- mislabeled as wheat gluten or rice protein concentrate -- containing melamine and related products.

Tian's company was shut by local police on April 25, the day he was detained.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Tian said in an interview with CNN from the detention center in Binzhou in China's eastern Shandong Province.

Dressed in a white T-shirt and orange prison vest, Tian said, "I don't know about melamine. I don't even know what this melamine is. I have never heard of anyone using it."

Under Chinese law, police can hold Tian for 30 days while the investigation continues. After that, he must be tried or released.

Today, China also announces a general food and drug safety crackdown and will this month be trying a former top drug official--one whose greed-fueled actions had tragic consequences--on bribery and corruption charges:

SHANGHAI (AP) — China launched a food and drug safety crackdown Wednesday, following an announcement that authorities had detained managers from two companies linked to contaminated pet food that killed dogs and cats in North America.

State media, meanwhile, reported the country's disgraced former top drug regulator would go on trial this month on charges of taking bribes to approve untested medicine.


China's State Council, or Cabinet, said the nationwide crackdown would compel companies to adopt "standards used in food-importing countries ... and test products which will be used to make animal feed or food for humans."

The government must "strengthen its investigations into protein products, especially melamine," the notice said.

That appeared to reflect concern over the impact of the scandals on China's exports of seafood, food additives and other such products, which compete strongly on price but which have been repeatedly singled out for contamination or low quality.

In one such recent case, Mississippi on Tuesday banned catfish from China after tests found ciprofloxacin and enrofloxacin, antibiotics that are banned for use in the United States.

Tainted drugs are also a serious problem. Recent reports have accused a Chinese company of selling diethylene glycol, a chemical cousin of antifreeze, that ended up in medicine that killed at least 51 people in Panama.

Zheng Xiaoyu, the former director of the State Food and Drug Administration, is accused of taking up to $780,000 in bribes to approve untested medicines, including an antibiotic that killed at least 10 patients.

And all that imported "gluten" and "protein concentrate" responsible for the deaths of thousands of companion animals as well as an unknown number of animal and, I don't doubt, human ailments? It was flour. That's right: plain old inexpensive flour, loaded up with nitrogen-rich melamine and cyanuric acid so that samples would give high protein readings, and then labeled as gluten, the protein-rich ingredient made from processed grains like wheat:

The contaminated ingredients from China that led to the massive pet-food recall were both actually flour, mislabeled to look more valuable than they actually were, federal officials said Tuesday.

The flour, thought to be wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate, contained melamine to appear higher in protein, the Food and Drug Administration speculated.

The mislabeling went undetected by pet-food makers who used the ingredients, the importers who imported them and the FDA for weeks.

Now, I have not eaten red meat in twenty-six years, nor did I consume poultry for most of those. But I've always enjoyed a nice piece of grilled fish from time to time, especially salmon: hasn't every doctor and nutritionist around been touting its healthy fatty acid profile as benefiting everything--heart health, brain chemistry, joint flexibility, and immune-system strength? Even many dermatologists recommend eating salmon a few times a week in order to keep skin looking its best.

I won't bother asking What next? because, truth be told, a part of me isn't sure I want to know. So far, officials and scientists have found illegal antibiotics in Chinese catfish (the importation of which was banned in Mississippi on Tuesday); diethylene glycol (antifreeze) in cough and cold medicines; and melamine and cyanuric acid in wheat gluten and rice protein, as well as in the bodies of the animals consuming it: cats, dogs, pigs, chicken, and now, fish.

So I've stopped buying chicken for the family, and I've got the animals on Newman's Own Organic pet food, which is made in America--with organic American ingredients that do not include rendered beasts and other unspeakable nastiness--and which is not significantly more expensive than the Iams stuff I'm kicking myself for having fed them prior to this spring. A trip to the supermarket for a few essentials can now take over an hour, since I obsessively read every label, ever on the lookout for gluten (most English muffins contain gluten, but I found a terrific organic brand, made entirely from US-grown whole grains, that actually costs less than the gluten-containing, chemically-enriched globules of dough lining the shelves).

Honestly, I'm sure I'll be a vegan before this is over.

I would be remiss if I didn't once again point you Goldy at HorsesAss; he's been staying on top of the food adulteration issue, too, and has about as much faith in the FDA's laissez-faire approach to protecting our food supply (1% of imported foods and ingredients get inspected!) and Don't-worry-eat-happy platitudes as I do.

More soon, I'm sure.

Also at Shakesville.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Hillary vs. Obama

Hot off the YouTube from this weekend's Mad TV. Starring--and written by--Lisa Nova; also starring cast member Jordan Peele.

Also at Shakesville.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Adulterated And Counterfeit Chinese Ingredients Sicken And Kill Thousands

A quick math question: If the FDA inspects less than 2% of all imported food and food ingredients (and those are their numbers, not mine), what are the odds that a given Chinese shipment marked Food Grade Glycerin--one that actually held container after container of the cheap, sweet, and lethally poisonous antifreeze diethylene glycol--would be intercepted before its consignors distributed it far and wide, where it would be poured into cough syrups and toothpaste, then shipped to consumers who, along with their children, would be poisoned and killed?

Now consider this: the above scenario has happened, and is still happening, in other countries. I imagine you are quite rightly worried. The FDA would appear to be getting there, too--on March 21, 2007, the agency quietly issued an Import Alert, calling for increased surveillance--not an outright ban or full-scale, mandatory inspections--of glycerin imports. Then, on May 4th, the FDA sent out an advisory to pharmaceutical manufacturers, drug repackers, and other health professionals:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning pharmaceutical manufacturers, suppliers, drug repackers, and health professionals who compound medications to be especially vigilant in assuring that glycerin, a sweetener commonly used worldwide in liquid over-the-counter and prescription drug products, is not contaminated with diethylene glycol (DEG). DEG is a known poison used in antifreeze and as a solvent. Today, the agency is issuing guidance to industry recommending methods of testing glycerin and other controls to identify any contamination with DEG before use in the manufacture or preparation of pharmaceutical products.

At the present time, FDA has no reason to believe that the U.S. supply of glycerin is contaminated with DEG, though the agency is cognizant of reports from other countries over the past several years in which DEG-contaminated glycerin has caused human deaths. FDA is emphasizing the importance of testing glycerin for DEG due to the serious nature of this potentially fatal problem in combination with the global nature of the pharmaceutical supply chain and problems that continue to occur with this kind of contamination in some parts of the global supply of glycerin.

And appearing in today's New York Times is this disturbing, must-read article:

Many of them are children, poisoned at the hands of their unsuspecting parents.

The syrupy poison, diethylene glycol, is an indispensable part of the modern world, an industrial solvent and prime ingredient in some antifreeze.

It is also a killer. And the deaths, if not intentional, are often no accident.

Over the years, the poison has been loaded into all varieties of medicine — cough syrup, fever medication, injectable drugs — a result of counterfeiters who profit by substituting the sweet-tasting solvent for a safe, more expensive syrup, usually glycerin, commonly used in drugs, food, toothpaste and other products.

Toxic syrup has figured in at least eight mass poisonings around the world in the past two decades. Researchers estimate that thousands have died. In many cases, the precise origin of the poison has never been determined. But records and interviews show that in three of the last four cases it was made in China, a major source of counterfeit drugs.

Panama is the most recent victim. Last year, government officials there unwittingly mixed diethylene glycol into 260,000 bottles of cold medicine — with devastating results. Families have reported 365 deaths from the poison, 100 of which have been confirmed so far. With the onset of the rainy season, investigators are racing to exhume as many potential victims as possible before bodies decompose even more.

Panama’s death toll leads directly to Chinese companies that made and exported the poison as 99.5 percent pure glycerin.


Forty-six barrels of the toxic syrup arrived via a poison pipeline stretching halfway around the world. Through shipping records and interviews with government officials, The New York Times traced this pipeline from the Panamanian port of Colón, back through trading companies in Barcelona, Spain, and Beijing, to its beginning near the Yangtze Delta in a place local people call “chemical country.”

The counterfeit glycerin passed through three trading companies on three continents, yet not one of them tested the syrup to confirm what was on the label. Along the way, a certificate falsely attesting to the purity of the shipment was repeatedly altered, eliminating the name of the manufacturer and previous owner. As a result, traders bought the syrup without knowing where it came from, or who made it. With this information, the traders might have discovered — as The Times did — that the manufacturer was not certified to make pharmaceutical ingredients.

An examination of the two poisoning cases last year — in Panama and earlier in China — shows how China’s safety regulations have lagged behind its growing role as low-cost supplier to the world. It also demonstrates how a poorly policed chain of traders in country after country allows counterfeit medicine to contaminate the global market.

Last week, the United States Food and Drug Administration warned drug makers and suppliers in the United States “to be especially vigilant” in watching for diethylene glycol. The warning did not specifically mention China, and it said there was “no reason to believe” that glycerin in this country was tainted. Even so, the agency asked that all glycerin shipments be tested for diethylene glycol, and said it was “exploring how supplies of glycerin become contaminated.”

It is a long and harrowing piece, one I can't recommend enough.

And in a related story, news on the adulterated food front keeps getting worse. Last week, the FDA began inspecting American food-processing facilities--as in, manufacturers of food meant for humans--and Chinese authorities detained one manager working at Xuzhou Anying, exporters of the tainted wheat gluten that U.S. company ChemNutra resold to Menu Foods and other manufacturers.

Surely I'm not alone in wondering exactly how big the Big Picture really is? Here we are, witnessing the dark and deadly effects wrought by a disturbing new strain of unbound, unchecked capitalism, one that takes the form of opportunistic criminals driving overseas containers through the gaping holes in our regulatory system. Yet only a handful of bloggers--Goldy (who wonders if the fake glycerin may have caused all the renal failure in American cats and dogs), as well as the folks at Ichmo and Pet Connection, for example--and newspaper writers seem to be following through with the developments, observing the connections, pointing out the deeply worrisome implications.

I was particularly struck by this quote in the above-linked Times article:

In Bangladesh, investigators found poison in seven brands of fever medication in 1992, but only after countless children died. A Massachusetts laboratory detected the contamination after Dr. Michael L. Bennish, a pediatrician who works in developing countries, smuggled samples of the tainted syrup out of the country in a suitcase. Dr. Bennish, who investigated the Bangladesh epidemic and helped write a 1995 article about it for BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal, said that given the amount of medication distributed, deaths “must be in the thousands or tens of thousands.”

In the thousands or tens of thousands.

Terrorism attacked us on our own soil in 2001, but human greed would appear to be going one step further, attacking us within our own bodies. Poisoning our food and our medicine; poisoning adults and children and animals--around the world, and here at home. Poisoning us.

Also at Ezra's place and Shakesville.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Food Adulteration Update: FDA Examines Human Food; Damning Paperwork Points To Linked Chinese Suppiers; Manager Arrested

The FDA said Thursday it would begin visiting hundreds of food manufacturers who use protein concentrates--presumably grain glutens and rice protein--and begin inspections in order to rule out contamination of "other products":

Government inspectors are checking food makers who use protein concentrates to make sure none of the contaminated products found in pet food have reached other products, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

There is no evidence that any of the two contaminated batches of wheat gluten and rice protein from China ended up as an ingredient in human food, "but it's prudent to look," said Dr. David Acheson, assistant FDA commissioner for food protection.

Acheson said the inspections began this week, covering both human and pet food manufacturers to raise awareness of how important it is to know their supply chain and to make sure none of the contaminated products remain in stock.

The number of facilities to be visited could be in the range of hundreds, Acheson said, based on knowledge of what ingredients go to which manufacturer.

"This is going to go on until we feel satisfied we've got it covered. We're not setting the bar at 50 or 100 or 1,000. We're going to keep doing this until we're confident that we've got our arms around it," he said.

Protein concentrates are used in a number of food products such as baked goods.

Meanwhile, paperwork evidence emerges that links tainted wheat gluten exporter Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. to ChemNutra and a third Chinese exporter, Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products, Arts & Crafts Import Export Co.:

HONG KONG -- A stamped invoice for wheat gluten adds to evidence linking two Chinese companies to a widening scandal over contaminated pet food.

The invoice was apparently sent by Chinese trading company, Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products, Arts & Crafts Import Export Co., and names the manufacturer of the product as Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. The wheat gluten was purchased by Las Vegas-based pet food supplier ChemNutra, which has posted a copy of the invoice, along with two other documents, on a Web site run by a public relations firm working for ChemNutra.

In late March, the Food and Drug Administration said it had traced the source of the contaminated pet food to Xuzhou Anying, a Chinese company in Jiangsu province. The FDA later pointed to a second Chinese company, called Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co., as another source of tainted ingredients.

The contamination has led to a massive recall of pet food and reports to the FDA of the deaths of more than 4,000 cats and dogs. It's still unclear how exactly the contaminant, a chemical called melamine that is normally used in plastics, killed the pets.

The Sept. 29, 2006, invoice issued by Suzhou Textiles billed ChemNutra $18,920 for a shipment of 22 metric tons of wheat gluten. The invoice is printed on Suzhou's company letterhead. The signature of Chen Zhenhao, Suzhou Textile's general manager, was stamped on the manifest. A man who answered the phone on Friday at Suzhou's office declined to comment, and didn't know how to reach Mr. Chen.

Previously, both Suzhou Textile and Xuzhou Anying have denied involvement in the tainted pet food scandal.

Here are links to PDF's of the above-mentioned documents, if you're interested:

A stamped invoice issued by Suzhou Textiles billed ChemNutra $18,920 for a shipment of 22 metric tons of wheat gluten, dated Sept. 29, 2006.

A certificate of origin for the shipment of wheat gluten was stamped by the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade in Beijing.

ChemNutra purchase order for wheat gluten, dated Jan. 18, 2007.

Packing list of shipment from Suzhou Textiles.

Finally, a manager at gluten exporter Xuzhou Anying is arrested in China; details are still sketchy:

SHANGHAI, China May 4, 2007 (AP) The exporter of a contaminated pet food ingredient blamed for the deaths of dogs and cats in the United States may have avoided Chinese export inspections by labeling it a nonfood product, a U.S. government report says.

The company, Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., was not the original producer of the tainted wheat gluten, but may have purchased it from up to 25 different suppliers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement.

The identities of those suppliers remain a mystery and all calls to listed numbers for Xuzhou Anying on Friday rang unanswered. Investigators are also looking into the origins of a second contaminated food additive imported from China, rice protein concentrate.

The New York Times reported that Xuzhou Anying's manager, Mao Lijun, had been detained by Chinese authorities, although the paper gave no details about possible charges against him.

Calls to police and government offices in the city of Xuzhou, in eastern China's Jiangsu where the company is based, rang unanswered on Friday, which was a public holiday.

Also at Shakesville and Pushing Rope.

Friday Frank: A Musical Scrapbook With Opinions

Frank Zappa was the mad scientist of music, period. He was the Mozart of the 20th Century.
-- Warren Cuccurullo

Anyone whose influences are Johnny Guitar Watson and Edgar Varese, I'll sign up for.
-- Billy Bob Thornton

He was completely ahead of his time. Years--decades--ahead of his time. Even now, I think, his music is still ahead of its time.
-- Napoleon Murphy Brock

Frank's solos were like sonic sculptures; he never did the same thing twice, unless it was a particular melody line that was integral to the song.
-- Steve Vai

From the documentary series Classic Albums, a scrapbook of verbal and musical riffs courtesy of Frank and friends.

Candy for aficionados; an excellent primer for those new to Frank's mad genius.

Bon Weekend, everyone.

(H/T HulloX)