Thursday, June 28, 2007

How Safe Is Your Food?

When I first read and heard about
reports of tainted pet food from China and then toothpaste as well, I had a sinking feeling that there would be more to come. I have nothing against China as such but I this whole rush for making them our supplier for everything we consume, because it is cheap was bound to come up against the harsh reality. Food safety laws are lax in China.

This is news to some maybe. But food safety laws often are lax in a lot of parts of the world especially in the developing world and other poor nations (not to mention corruption that makes enforcement harder). The efficiencies that accrue from having one global supplier of farmed fish, tooth paste and other consumables do help with the bottom line. But it also increases the risk of something like this snowballing when the controls and regulations that are meant to assure food safety and quality are lax to nonexistent.

So now the Chinese authorities scramble to get their act together, look at some of the stuff that is going on there. From the NY Times
link, and if you want take a listen to the story from NPR here.

SHANGHAI, June 27 — After weeks of insisting that food here is largely safe,
regulators in China said Tuesday that they had recently closed 180 food
and that inspectors had uncovered more than 23,000 food safety

“These are not isolated cases,” Han Yi, director of the
administration’s quality control and inspection department, told the state-run
media. China Daily, the nation’s English-language newspaper, said industrial
chemicals not intended for use in foods had been found in products as diverse as
candy, pickles and seafood. Among the substances were dyes, mineral oils,
paraffin, formaldehyde and malachite green, a chemical primarily used as a dye
but also used as a topical antiseptic or treatment for parasites and infections
in fish.

You can read the whole article if you are interested.

We are very wary about eating farmed fish, including ones raised in the US. While they may be sure that they are not raising fish that are feeding on its own waste what about the food that the fish consume? It could surely be from a source that could not be vouched for right?

A few weeks back we tried to get some Tilapia (or other kind of fish if we did nto find it) and you can imagine our surprise when almost all the fish that we wanted to buy was farmed in China. *A* very rightly insisted on not buying it.

With these latest reports I am even more convinced that I don’t want to buy fish raised in China or some place that can’t guarantee it’s safety.

This also brought to my mind memories of why I stopped eating greens when I was in India. For the longest time greens (Spinach etc) used to be trucked in to Bombay from farms outside the city. Then suddenly I started noticing plots of land next to the commuter rail lines in Bombay planted with greens. The irrigation source? Water from open canals or drains that often ran next to the tracks which often were contaminated with sewage. You can tell how quickly I stopped eating greens!

My folks made the mistake of eating some brought from the vegetable market some months back. They usually buy things from vendors who they can trust, but that was not the case this time. Mom came down with a very bad stomach virus that needed her to be hospitalized.

Not to say this won’t happen here, we know about the recent Spinach
scare. I guess the industrialization of food and sourcing from countries with lax food and drug enforcement plays a hug role.
I guess when we can be in a food coop, buying locally and from sources we can trust is the way to go.
No large point to this, just my rant of the day.


Beach Bum said...

My wife and I did an organic coop for a while and was very satisfied with everything. Veggies, fruits and milk in real glass bottles, it was awesome but a little more expensive than we could handle at times.
Hate to sound like some nimrod but while getting twenty dollar DVD players from China is one thing getting processed food from another country just does not sit well with me. Your point about controls and regulations being lax or not being enforced hits home with me.

Carrie said...

I try to buy locally or from the organic store but how do you really know unless you grow it yourself? Scary huh.

Lotus Reads said...

Scary stuff this, Sanjay! I, too, don't like to eat fish farmed in China and that is why our fish eating is mostly limited to ocean Salmon. If, despite the strict export laws, they managed to send tainted food abroad, can you imagine the state of the domestic food market in Asia? The hot temperatures, limited refigeration etc. must tempt vendors to use inexpensive ways to preserve their foods...I think the article you linked to mentions formaldehyde....ewwww,I remember using healthy doses of that chemical to preserve dead frogs for dissection in science class!

You are quite right to want to rant about this...more of us need to do this!

samiya said...

i read it too and ok u can stop eating fish and other food comin from china an all but think toothpaste ,looks like it has to go back to datun era.

Sanjay said...

@Beach. Thank you for your comment. I agree the coop, farm market can be a bit more expensive. We have experienced that too.
And no you do not sound like a nimrod, you are right about processed foods.

@Carrie. True, we don't know unless we grow stuff ourselves. But that is exactly why we have laws and inspections and penalties for violators.

Sanjay said...

Hey Lotus, thank you for your comment.
We have also been trying to eat wild caught fish, a bit more expensive but better than fish from China (esp after reading this report).
You make a great point about the domestic food market in Asia. Some examples I heard yest on NPR that support what you said.. fake eggs, baby formula that was supposed to have milk, but had nothing of nutritional value in it and a few more I can't recall now. But fake eggs?

Oh yes formaldehyde is vile stuff I recall using it for what you mention and it was also used as a fixative in biochem class.

I also remember using Malachite green as a stain for viewing bacteria under the scope in Microbiology class. I remember we never used gloves, and if we spilt any on our fingers it took a week to get off. :-)

Sanjay said...

@Samiya..:-). I know what you mean. Thanks for visiting.

patches said...

I've been thinking about these issues more recently too. We don't consume as many processed foods as most families in our area do, but the pet food scare hit a little close to home. It really is frightening how vulnerable our nation's food supply is.

Sai said...

Scary stuff! K and I are all about organic stuff. We go to the local farmer's market for our produce.

Hope your mother is well!

Sanjay said...

@Patches.yes you make a great point about the food supply. We don't buy much processed food either.

@Sai..Nice to see you. :) Yes I recall you mentioning buying local and organic before too. Yay for you!
Thank you for asking about my mom. This episode was from a while back, both mom and dad fell sick, mom was pretty bad given that she is more fragile. Poor sis was overwhelmed, she only managed cos *A*s brother was around to help. Of course they never told me till things had improved. You know how that feels, they are well intentioned and we end up feeling even worse being this far away.

Aditi said...

well its not just abt food regulations its also about how fresh can that food be? and if its preserved.. god knows what else they put in there to preserve it...
anyway.. all valid concerns..
i am fine just .. on an unannounced hiatus.. been busy

moegirl said...

This makes me want to shop exclusively at our own farmers market.

listie said...

I don't eat fish, so I had no idea they are farm raised in China. I always try to buy locally if possible, but I think I'll be paying even more attention from now on.

Carrie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hollydolly said...

Oh my, this is scary stuff. We are both lovers of fish, but try to stay away from anything other than ocean salmon and occasionally trout.

Now, instead of toothpaste, maybe I should be chewing on a twig and using the brushy end.......

Diana said...

Bleh. Unfortunately, even if I were to eat locally caught fish, I would be loading myself with murcury and other horrible chemicals that have made much of the fish in my otherwise pristine state of Wisconsin inedible.

It all just makes you want to scream.

I love fish but rarely eat it. Shame on them all.

Sugarlips said...

This is very scary!!
I get everything from the organic store but what about the other stuff we use? I heard some people got arrested in US too for using same chemicals.

Stay Beautiful...!!

Neha said...

Now i know why you got the thinking blogger award.. url has changed now...

Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.

Anali said...

Food safety is becoming such a big issue. I only buy wild fish and not farmed, but there are so many things that we ingest that we just don't have control over. It seems like after the fact, we learn more and more about the dangers. Even toothpaste! First we were told that it was very isolated, but now I read that US prisons have been using the tainted toothpaste from China. I'm sure we'll probably keep hearing more.

Shionge said...

Because of this, alot of people here have avoided canned food from China :(

chandni said...

good thing this has come out...I am tired of the obsession with china the developed world has, as far as buying is concerned.

I mean, its nice and all that their economy is booming...but then ensure quality please ( applies to anyone and everyone including India)

Keshi said...

yukkk I better watch wut I eat then!


Ash said...

Some food for thought, that!

Something to Say said...

you know - while buying veggies, I often wonder - whether its safer to buy one of these 'farmed' veggies - so you know there is a process that the veggie goes thru - but then again there mite be pesticides too..or shud one stick to a local farmer - knowing he has organic veggies - and not knowing whether he uses sewer water for the plants....

and really there is no such concept as 'organic veggies' in this part of the world....

NainaAshley said...

Scary stuff! I din't pay much attention to the food we were eating untill I was pregnant with my daughter. I swiched to organic then. My baby has food allergies. I can't help but wonder if the genetically modified food that we eat has something to do with it.

sanogy said...

After hearing horror stories about China's so called farm raised fish and seafood I will NOT buy anything from that country. Where in the world is all of our own fish and seafood? Who is getting American caught and processed fish and seafood ? I finally found a
company in Washington that wild catches tuna and salmon and my first order just arrived . It is
more expensive that stuff from China but I will gladly pay the difference to know it is clean. Sorry but I don't trust a country
( China) that farms dogs for food!