Friday, April 06, 2007

Pet poison: Congress to hold hearings, implications sinking in

The wider implications of the 2007 pet poisoning story are beginning to sink in. Congress will hold hearings, which will doubtless show that Cheney/Bush have signficantly impaired FDA capabilities. There's a growing recognition that if the toxins really did originate in China (vs. a US based importer/shipper), that thousands of Chinese citizens may have suffered kidney damange. Reports have stopped confusing the death toll in animal testing with the total estimated death and injury toll. Lastly, the broader implications for homeland security and food management are being discussed ...
China probing tainted wheat gluten claim

.... Only 873 tons have been linked to the contaminated pet food in America, raising the possibility that more of the bad product could still be in China or the United States. Xuzhou Anying says the U.S. is its only foreign market.

Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, said Friday that importing the ingredients for food products from developing countries is becoming "increasingly common."

"This is what globalization is about," said Nestle, who is writing a book about pet food.

While regulators recognize that more and more food is reaching the U.S. from developing countries, Nestle said the Food and Drug Administration is not equipped to sufficiently monitor its quality.

"The FDA is an agency under siege," she said, lacking the funding and manpower to adequately screen imported food, though they are slowly being "reluctantly dragged into it, kicking and screaming."

An FDA spokeswoman, Vash Klein, said the agency did not have time to comment on Friday.

Nestle said that she has always wondered why imported vegetables from Mexico, for example, don't make Americans sick when American tourists traveling in Mexico often get sick from vegetables they eat there. Experts have told her, she said, that Mexican vegetables slated for export to the U.S. are "produced under conditions that are identical to conditions in the U.S."

"But if you think about it for a second, you realize that the FDA isn't going off into the wild to inspect everything," Nestle said, noting that the agency is able to inspect only 2 percent of the goods that cross U.S. borders.

Neal Hooker, a professor of agricultural economics at Ohio State University, said that while the FDA cannot inspect every good that comes into the U.S., it does insist that developing countries meet higher production standards for the goods they intend to send to the U.S.

Hooker said the agency can be fairly effective, despite its infrequent product inspections, because it brings pressure to bear on the system of production and works with foreign governments to ensure compliance.

But government regulations are not the only -- or even the most effective -- means of enforcing high standards. Hooker said the market also offers powerful incentives.

The pet food companies who received tainted ingredients, for instance, "are going to ask for things much more rigorously than a nation can ask for. And they will get them," he said, or they will take their business elsewhere.

Similarly, he said, Mexican vegetable growers may have even higher production standards than U.S. farmers because certain hygienic practices can increase the shelf-life of food, allowing the use of slower -- and cheaper -- shipping methods.

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