Melamine, China and the Food Supply

30 Sep

The first time I heard about melamine contamination in food was last year. I had just fed the Sous-Chef her nightly meal of  Alpo Prime Cuts and Pedigree Senior Formula Dry food. As the Sous-Chef ate her dinner, I saw the pet food recall on CNN. I  went to the site, and found the food I had just given to my dog on the list.

I was horrified.

I looked at Sous-Chef and panicked. I called my vet and hysterically I told them I may have given the dog the food. The vet tech on the other end of the line was very calm, and told me to check the recall numbers on the list against the food I had given her. I did, and the numbers were different. I grabbed the Sous-Chef and hugged her. i honestly don’t know what I would have done if she had died from eating the food I had given her.  You see, she is my family ( pet owners know what I am talking about). I was just glad that she was ok; and glad that this chemical would not find its way into the human food supply. That was then.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I had all but forgotten about the melamine toxicity incident when I heard/read/seen another report about this happening again; but this time, the melamine contamination was in baby formula.

BABY FORMULA?????????

I  didn’t make the connection immediately; I readily admit that I probably didn’t because it didn’t directly affect me. All my friends have adult kids, so there was no connection for me. Now, please don’t think ill of me, but i did take notice when Cadbury announced it was recalling 11 of its chocolate products. The precautionary recall is linked to fears of the melamine contamination of the products  containing milk protein powders made in China.

Four days ago, another batch of suspected melamine-laced products were recalled. The instant coffee and milk tea products were sold overseas, and the FDA is concerned that the products may have made their way into Asian food markets here in the U.S.

So, what’s the connection?

Melamine was used in the wheat gluten that was used in the recalled pet food. The origin of the wheat gluten was China.

Melamine is the prime suspect in the milk powder used in both the baby formula and chocolate candy, milk powder made in China. ( note: latest report issued said  according to the Chinese government current levels of melamine in candy are acceptable)

And, as CC was researching this story, another recall was issued in the Netherlands for Koala brand cookies.  According to the FDA, a dutch watchdog group found slightly elevated levels of melamine in the cookies.  The cookies are imported from China.

Apparently melamine is used in products that require a certain amount of protein. It is alleged that certain suppliers in China use this product to elevate protein levels, instead of actually putting the real protein in the products. The reason, I guess is money.

I guess  what I’m asking  is this: why are we as people allowing this to happen? I know that somebody will say that it is cheaper to import these products than to make them ourselves. That American workers won’t take these jobs, or want too much from the employers of these jobs like safe working conditions, some sort of basic benefits, some pesky job protections, you know. We aren’t satisfied working for $1 an hour and a bowl of rice. We import all this stuff to make everyday products in out lives more affordable.

That argument may wash sometimes, but is it really cheaper to buy foodstuffs from other countries when we have problems keeping our own food safe? What’s more expensive: cheaper labor, or the cost of recalls and the imminent health risks.

Our government has gutted the agencies that protect us from bad consumer products. How about lead in the toys, and the latest scare: salmonella and peppers. The inspectors whose job it is to check these things are woefully understaffed. So what are we to do?

I heard the phrase “Food Autonomy” from a fellow wordpress.com blogger. I take it to mean we should not import food, or we should grow our own food. I couldn’t find anything about it on the net, so if anyone knows what this term means, please enlighten us.

What do you think we should do?

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2 Responses to “Melamine, China and the Food Supply”

  1. Rob October 6, 2008 at 3:30 am #

    Current U.S. law does not require any U.S. plant using tainted Chinese ingredients to disclose where the contents came from, if the product is made in the U.S. or canada.
    The chances of cadbury or Hersheys or any one else not using the same inexpensive ingredients in the U.S. as they use else where are pretty slim.

  2. culinarychick October 6, 2008 at 4:18 pm #

    Somehow, I find that hard to believe. The reason why is that we barely have enough inspectors here to keep our food safe. The only way we find out if food is tainted here in the U.S. is usually after someone gets sick. I know that recalls are issued all of the time here, like the recent recall of chicken dinners being raw, and people getting sick from not cooking them correctly, but again, it is after the fact.

    I would like to believe that China would never ship us food using cheap ingredients, but is it really okay to ship it to other countries, or worse yet, to their own people?

    I know that the reason why they use melamine is to fool inspectors. Since it seems that there will always be a company that will look to cut costs anyway they can, we must be diligent in inspecting things from our end.

    However, until the Feds feel the same way, we are at the mercy of the “honor system.”

    CC

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