Wednesday, July 4, 2007

"Made In China" Means "May Be Hazardous To Your Health"

China is importing dangerous, sometimes toxic products to the United States. The American people are just finding out about this practice, although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has known about it and does little to protect us. There is no oversight either in China or here in the U.S.

The problem rose to the surface when dogs and cats began dying of kidney failure after eating pet food. The pet food was analyzed and melamine, an industrial product, was found in the wheat gluten used to bind pet food ingredients, making the "gravy" in wet pet food. Melamine is normally used to make plastic kitchen utensils and fertilizers. It was traced to a Chinese manufacturer who was not certified to make agricultural products. Menu Foods, the leading North American manufacturer of wet pet food products, had to recall more than 100 brands consisting of millions of cans of pet food. Some were sold under well-known brand names (i.e. Mighty Dog). Menu Foods currently produces more than 1 billion cans of pet food per year.

Then came the problem with diethylene glycol (DEG). DEG is a chemical cousin of anti-freeze that causes kidney and neurological damage if ingested. An industrial solvent, it is an odorless, colorless, sweet tasting syrup, used by unscrupulous manufacturers as a substitute for the more expensive product glycerin.

In 1937 more than 100 people died in the U.S. after ingesting a DEG-contaminated drug used to treat infections. That led to the enactment of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the nation's primary statute on the regulation of drugs.

In September 2006, dozens of Panamanian citizens were hospitalized and at least 40 were dead from ingesting cough syrup laced with DEG. Investigators from 4 countries identified the manufacturer of the "glycerin" ingredient in the cough syrup as the Taixing Glycerin Company in Hengxiang, China. The factory is not certified to sell any medical ingredients.

When the investigators examined the records for the shipment, they found that the names of the suppliers were removed from the shipping documents as they passed from one place to another. The manufacturer's certificate of analysis showed the batch of "glycerin" to be 99.5% pure.

At the end of May 2007, federal officials found Chinese-made toothpaste loaded with DEG in U.S. stores. They said it was only in discount stores. In fact, the toothpaste was distributed much more widely. 900,000 tubes containing DEG have turned up in hospitals for the mentally ill, prisons, juvenile detention centers and some hospitals serving the general public. Four states (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida) reported receiving Chinese-made toothpaste tainted with DEG. A major national pharmaceutical distributor said it was recalling the toxic toothpaste.

In response, the FDA has advised Americans to discard all Chinese-made toothpaste. As Dough Arbesfeld, spokesman for the FDA, said, "This stuff doesn't belong in toothpaste, period."

The Case of the Chinese Tires: According to, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ordered Foreign Tire Sales (FTS), a tire importer based in New Jersey, to recall 450,000 light truck tires that are at risk for tire tread separation because they lack a gum strip (which costs a few cents) that holds the tread together. Tread separation is the same defect that led to the recall of millions of Firestone tires in 2000.

FTS had a contract with the Chinese company Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Company to manufacture tires according to FTS' specifications. Initially, there were no problems. Gradually, however, customer complaints rose in volume. Then in August 2006 two men died and another sustained permanent brain damage when their Chevrolet van rolled over after the tire tread separated. When FTS was named as a defendant in a suit against them regarding this accident, it performed tests on the tires and found that they had an insufficient gum strip or no gum strip. A gum strip is a rubber feature that helps prevent the tire from separation or from damaging the rubber. FTS also found that the tire treads begin to come apart after 25,000 miles.

Originally the tires were exclusively imported to FTS, but now they are sold to several other importers.

Hangzhou Zhongce told the Wall Street Journal on 6/25/07 that in its own testing, there were no defects. They said the recall may be an effort by foreign competitors to hamper the company's exports to the United States. Quoting from The New York Times 6/27/07 article, "Chinese Company Denies Tire Defect", Xu Yourning, manager of legal affairs at Hangzhou Zhongce, said that, "This is concocted out of thin air. The structure of a tire cannot be decided by an individual. Any change in the tire requires technical assistance. Zhongce couldn't possibly leave out the gum strip on purpose."

NO RECALL is actually taking place. FTS claims in documents filed with the NHTSA that it simply cannot afford the expense of recall. The NHTSA is threatening FTS with retaliatory action if it doesn't comply. Meanwhile, millions of people are driving around on dangerous, possibly deadly, tires.

The case of the tainted seafood: On June 28, 2007, the FDA blocked the sale of 5 types of farm-raised seafood from China. It was contaminated with carcinogens and other banned additives. The FDA had been aware of tainted Chinese seafood for at least 6 years. It warned the Chinese about it and even visited Chinese fish ponds. Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection, stressed that the seafood posed no immediate health threat, though long-term consumption could result in health problems.

China is the world's largest producer of farm-raised fish. It is the biggest foreign supplier of seafood to the United States.

The FDA issued an "import alert" covering the following seafood: shrimp, catfish, eel, basa (similar to catfish) and dace (similar to carp). Some of the contaminants have been known to cause cancer in laboratory animals, and others increase resistance to antiobiotics that are used to fight anthrax poisoning. The FDA asserts that the seafood can only be sold in the United States if importers provide independent testing that it doesn't contain contaminants.

Chinese seafood farmers often use the banned contaminants to prevent disease caused by pond overcrowding. "You may have 10-20 times the density of fish that you have in a natural environment," said Robert Romaire, professor of aquaculture at Louisiana State University.

Shipments of imported Chinese seafood were valued at $1.9 billion in 2006, a 193% increase since 2001.

The Food and Water Watch, a Washington-based nonprofit group, found that more than 60% of the seafood rejected at the border by the FDA came from China.

The percentage of seafood shipments pulled out for laboratory analysis has declined from 0.88% in 2003 to 0.59% in 2006.

One of the most serious problems in China is that the government lacks the power to control the nation's businessmen. Bribery and government corruption are rampant.

"China effectively has no oversight over anything," said Oded Shenkar, a business professor at Ohio State University and the author of "The Chinese Century: The Rising Chinese Economy and Its Impact on the Global Economy, The Balance of Power and Your Job." "People have this idea that they are Big Brother and everyone's under watch," Mr. Shenkar said. But that's entirely false. "In China, local authories often turn a blind eye to problems because maybe they're invested in it."

How can the United States allow its citizens to be endangered? Keep in mind several factors: 1) The Chinese government doesn't want to scare off foreign investors; 2) Multinational corporations want to set up shop in China (they're probably already there) and take advantage of its cheap labor force and billions of consumers; 3) Chinese businessmen can be as unscrupulous as any American businessman: In some of these cases, a Chinese businessman gets a big contract from a United States importer (like FTS), promises to deliver the product according to specifications, then substitutes cheaper, sometimes toxic and/or dangerous ingredients or leaves out an item entirely; 4) It can be extremely difficult to trace a dangerous shipment. It could come with forged documents or it could have been transshipped. Transshipping refers to the practice of "trade laundering", whereby products are transferred and shipped out through another country to avoid detection of their origin. So far the Chinese have denied there is a problem and the FDA is, at best, ineffectual at protecting us.

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