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Corporatism is Killing You: Beyond Menu Foods

chicago dyke's picture

With a little research, I'm pretty sure an enterprising investigator could turn this lede into the story of the century. How many sick American children are there, because of our utterly fucked up corporate system of distributing food resources? Moms, are you worried yet? Wheat, rice, corn...what's next? Meat, too:

Melamine-tainted corn gluten, imported from China, has been confirmed in South African pet food:

Johannesburg - Tests have confirmed that Vets Choice and Royal Canin dog and cat dry pet-food products contained corn gluten contaminated with melamine, says the manufacturer.

The contaminated corn gluten was delivered to Royal Canin by a South African third-party supplier and appears to have originated from China.

Once again the rumors prove right, and FDA denials prove wrong. On Tuesday, April 17, I informed the FDA that “the word […] is that corn gluten and rice protein concentrate are being recalled” — information they firmly denied.

What we have here is a pattern, and there is absolutely no reason to assume that it is limited to the pet food and animal feed markets. Wheat gluten, corn gluten and rice protein concentrate are all used to supplement the protein content of both animal and human food, and all three have now been found to be contaminated with melamine. Three different Chinese manufactures have now apparently been implicated.

Given the facts, it is now reasonable to assume either massive, industry-wide negligence, or intentional contamination, and that all Chinese produced high-protein food additives are now suspect. Steve Pickman, a VP at MGP Ingredients, the largest U.S. producer of wheat gluten, explores the most likely theory:

“It is my understanding, but certainly unheard of in our experience, that melamine could increase the measurable nitrogen of gluten and then be mathematically converted to protein. The effect could create the appearance or illusion of raising the gluten’s protein level. Understandably, any acts or practices such as this are barred in the U.S. How the U.S. can or cannot monitor and prevent these types of situations from occurring in other parts of the world is the overriding question.”

In grading the quality of these food additives, the protein content is usually extrapolated from measured nitrogen levels. It now seems likely that unscrupulous manufacturers, in an effort to up the grade and price of their product, are intentionally spiking nitrogen levels with melamine, an industrial chemical used in China as a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer.

One would expect the FDA to test this theory by directly measuring protein levels in melamine-contaminated samples to see if they otherwise fall below grade. One would also expect the FDA to release the names of all importers, distributors and manufacturers who are suspected of handling contaminated product. But then, one would expect a lot of things from the FDA that they have thus far failed to deliver.

The truth might be a good place to start.

During a conference call today, the FDA confirmed that melamine-tainted pet food was reprocessed and fed to hogs. People eat hogs. Figure it out for yourself.

Our friend Rick has more:

Some of the latest headlines about the pet food scandal: "Nothing But Luck Kept Suspect Wheat Gluten Out Of Food Supply." "New Finds Expand the Threat Beyond Wheat Gluten." Some recent developments: new brands getting recalled all the time (it's up over 5,000 now); corporate flacks spinning at fast enough velocity to escape earth orbit; Senate hearings reminding us of that the central scandal of America's food-safety system under conservative government, that the FDA has now power to order recalls (something I'll be writing much more about in the future).

The part of the story I want to linger on for now, however, concerns our modern-day robber barons' good friends across the sea: the People's Republic of China.

The Chinese company apparently responsible for introducing poison into its wheat gluten, allegedly to increase the protein content so they could charge more, is called Xuzhou Anying. An enterprising American reporter in China asked the news director at Xuzhou's City Morning Post for his thoughts about global attention now suddenly centered on his obscure city. But he hadn't heard of any story: "I didn't know this news about Xuzhou Anying. And even if we had heard about the news, we wouldn't be able to report on it because it's negative news."

The American reporter tracked down another wheat gluten manufacturer in a city 200 miles away; what precautions, it would be interesting to know, were other, similarly positioned companies taking to avoid the same mistakes? "We never heard the news of tainted pet food," the manager responded.

Yes, that would be China, all right, from whence America imports more and more of its foodstuffs and everything else. "The list of Chinese food exports rejected at American ports reads like a chef's nightmare: pesticide-laden pea pods, drug-laced catfish, filthy plums and crawfish contaminated with salmonella," the Associated Press reports. "Worried about losing access to foreign markets and stung by tainted food products scandals at home, China has in recent years tried to improve inspections, with limited success."

Asks our friend Dr. Phil: how's that working out for you?

If by "you" you mean, like, people in the United States who eat food, not so good. "Just 1.3 percent of imported fish, vegetables, fruit and other foods are inspected--yet those government inspections regularly reveal food unfit for human consumption," another AP article explains. More and more of the contents of that poisoned chalice come from China; since Ronald Reagan became president, Chinese agricultural exports have increased twenty-five-fold.

But if you are a transnational agribusiness concern, or one of the conservative ideologues who enable them--hell, it's working out great!

You see, whatever the Chinese Communist Party's commisars concerted, belated, PR-driven efforts to clean up dangerous factories, it's hard, if not impossible, to coordinate the kind of market incentives it would take to keep swindlers from acting like swindlers when your country is not free. When newspapers aren't allowed to report catastrophes, and whistle-blowers aren't allowed to talk to newspapers, corporations, American or Chinese, can do whatever they please to increase their bottom line at the expense of the public wellbeing, because they don't have to be afraid of getting caught.

And guess what? That's why E. coli conservatives love China. As one of them, Edward Gleaser of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, put it at the Wall Street Journal's Econoblog, China's "dictators are even better than democrats at restraining the growth-killing practices of expropriating private wealth."

(Let me translate that from foreign language spoken by E. coli conservatives. Professor Glaeser means: How often do you hear of a highway patrolman giving himself a ticket for speeding?.)

So the next time you see some child suffering from kidney disease, ask yourself: is this the price of paying Wall Street execs record bonuses? Is it worth it? I honestly don't understand why more people aren't up in arms over this. War is far away, but food is on the family table. And no one is safe.

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Ruth's picture
Submitted by Ruth on

In the LATimes today, there's an article that establishes the origins of the petfood debacle, and in it a mention of the 'enrichment' factor Rick cited. The chief veterinarian at FDA, Dr. Stephen Sundlof, is quoted "That's still a theory...a plausible one." FDA is working to inspect the Chinese facilities but also noted that the domestic manufacturers share responsibility for ensuring the safety of their products.

Yes, the vision of those little babyfood jars comes to mind. How many mothers spend a lot of time encouraging those little kiddos to eat their carrots? And how many just take it for granted that they contain nutritious, safe food?


If you sit and watch Hong Kong news for a year, you'll see reports on all of this and more. (see this google news search for example.

It is interesting that I went to look for a mainland brand of canned wheat gluten after this story broke, but it doesn't seem to be on the shelves anymore. Only the Taiwanese wheat gluten products (mock duck, mock pork) are there.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

" That’s why E. coli conservatives love China"

Never mind the attachment of the "China" to this, or the Harvard ghoul's bald statement about "appropriating wealth" being the only evil in the world (which is of course the underlying motivator here: the love of money). Those ride along the primary meme like ticks.

"E. coli conservatives" has legs. I see a new "Department of" tag in the making here. And we should all use the expression freely in casual conversation when in line at banks, post offices, and particularly checkout lines at supermarkets.

Submitted by lambert on

Also known as "Bush's Revenge...."

No authoritarians were tortured in the writing of this post.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

I think the fact that the Olympics are in 08 in China can work to our advantage. Contact NBC, the USOC and the usual advertisers about this. Threaten, promise, cajole, guilt whatever, but get them to understand that unless China, and our own FDA do something about the problems in the ingredients we feed to our beloved 4 footed family members, that we will boycott any and all Olympic related stuff. We won't travel there, we won't watch them on tv, and we certainly will not buy or use the products of the US Companies who advertise during the Olympics, unless they force actions to be taken to fix this mess.

The only power we have, other than raising 10 different kinds of hell and screaming at anyone who will listen, is the power of our own purses.