By David M. White
To attempt to address this rambling screed, let’s just start at the beginning and work our way down:
The screed starts by trying to paint as revolting a picture as possible of Asiatic farming and food production and is presumably starting off addressing the fish industry in China before wandering off on other produce: workers having to wear masks so as not to throw up, rotting meat, adding food coloring and then no system for inspection. Aside from sounding like the usual PETA campaign against the US meat packing industry, this ignores the reality that exported fish does get inspected when it reaches the importing country. It is true that the concept of regulating the widely diversified fisheries industry in China is a relatively new concept for them. Which is where much of the problem has been: fisheries in China range from large commercial operations that are much more tightly run down to tens of thousands of small farmers with small ponds. Ditto for Vietnam on a smaller scale – another country targeted later in the screed. It is very true that some of those farmers have used more ‘economical’ methods of feeding their ponds – including feeding the fish waste from other livestock. But then we are talking about fish. They do poop where they live. Far more concerning is the use of antibiotics that are not approved in the US or Canada. And the harvesting of fish from highly polluted waterways. But let’s not forget that there are a considerable number of recalls of food products every year that have nothing to do with any other country’s production methods. Sometimes it happens right here at home.
The companies usually listed in this forward, Green Giant, Birdseye and Europe’s Best, are all muti-national companies that source their produce from all over the globe. Including China. As noted for Green Giant (since they were the ‘bad’ example given in the screed), not all Green Giant vegetables are from China. In fact most are still US sourced. However, Green Giant does source globally for certain vegetables that are only grown in certain parts of the world and sometimes one region might offer superior conditions for growing a certain crop. Produce sourced from China will say 'Product of China' on the label. In fact, Green Giant has been working on an app based system that would enable consumers to scan the barcode on a product and have info they can drill down on all the way to country of origin, what farm, and even what specific field it was harvested from.
Garlic: China is far and away the world's largest garlic producer. In fact, in any given year China produces between 75% and 80% of the world's total garlic production. So far as the fields being fertilized with sewage, so what? It's called fertilizer. And with that much tonnage of garlic coming into the US and Canada, it’s a bit optimistic to think your personal buying habits at your local grocer are going to make that big a dent… what is sold through supermarkets is a fraction of what would be used in commercial applications… like that bottle of dried ground garlic in your cupboard. Or what’s used by restaurants. Or especially what’s used in commercial food preparation (i.e., read the labels on all the rest of the products in your cupboard and freezer and see how many contain garlic).
Back to fish again! Attempts to find the claimed article from the Montreal Gazette have turned up only one article that mentions fish being fed on feces from pigs. And that article was actually about bacterial contamination is all sorts of meats and produce world-wide and just mentioned the China connection in passing. There are certainly issues regarding Chinese fisheries and the pollution in their rivers. I will also repeat here that I am somewhat biased on this issue as catfish farming is a rather significant industry where I live, and some of those farms also raise Tilapia. The state I live in actually passed legislation requiring restaurants to post prominent notices regarding the source of the fish they serve, and pressed for national legislation for the US that was passed in 2002 regarding 'catfish' labeling. As can be seen in this article - it's all sorts of fish that are misidentified, whether intentionally or negligently. And since tilapia gets the top billing in several versions of the forward… Whether for nutritional reasons or risk of contamination, locally sourced is probably your best option.
Steinfield Pickles was sold years ago and their operations in Oregon shuttered. I’m not a big fan of pickles to start with, but it appears the only reason for this being included is because the production was moved overseas. No claims that they are ‘hazardous’… just that they haven’t tasted the same since production was moved. Not seeing the relevance.
Mushrooms… Indonesia has been the major source of mushrooms for the US for about a decade now, followed by India. The forwarded screed missed its chance here… while there have been no concerns regarding Indonesian produced ‘shrooms, Chinese authorities have halted all export of China grown ‘shrooms to the US due to contamination concerns. (Note that halt was called by CHINESE authorities – which would conflict with the forward’s claim that there is no inspection process in China).
Fruit cups… really? No brand or anything? Just fruit cups? I don’t even like the things, so just read the label.
There is no source given for the “70% of North Americans believe that the trading privileges afforded to the Chinese should be suspended” claim. This would fall under the category of “94.6% of statistics on the internet are made up.”
The rest of it is simply a gross oversimplification of trade economy. Which even most mainstream media don’t get right. We live in a global economy when it comes to consumer goods, and what may be intended to have a targeted impact in another place can easily have an equal impact more locally. It’s important to keep in mind that some items that are counted as ‘imports’ are actually made with North American sourced material, assembled overseas and shipped back. The North American company has never relinquished ownership of the goods or material, but it’s still an ‘import’.
Beyond that, the hoped for “$1 billion” resolution to the trade imbalance (last I checked, 20 times 200 million actually equals 4 billion): even using the correct $4 billion figure that’s barely 1% of the total US trade deficit with China. And that doesn’t include Canada’s own CAD$30+ billion trade deficit with China.Bottom line – there’s plenty of good reasons to avoid some specific foods sourced from China. To their credit, they are showing some progress in regulating their own industries. Until they have a better handle on it, there is clear evidence that US/Canadian authorities are taking appropriate actions when necessary to protect US & Canadian consumers. If you feel compelled to caution your friends about real hazards related to products imported from China, you’d be better of linking a current and relevant news article or caution issued by a relevant investigative authority instead of forwarding a rambling, disjointed copy/pasta. It’s too damned long in the first place.
Last updated: July 12, 2013