The China Symptom

11 11 2007

The China Symptom

By Jill Ettinger

With close to 1.5 billion people, China comprises 20% of the world population – more than any other country. Their appetite for natural resources is on a steady incline, doubling oil, steel and aluminum consumption since the early 1990’s to support both their increasing population and booming industries. They are the world’s premier exporter, producing everything from televisions and tennis balls to tea and tilapia. What may seem like innocuous efforts to bring economic growth to this nation are also bringing great risk to the world market.

China is the world’s number one exporter of fruits and vegetables, and the United States number one supplier of shrimp, rice and tea. They rank third in the world as a source for U.S. agricultural and forestry imports; a number that jumped from $2.9 billion to more than $7 billion last year. And though we get significantly more produce from Mexico and Canada, Chinese items are at the top of the list for being refused entry by the FDA, mainly for high-level microbial and chemical contaminations. The European Union and Japan have banned exports of shrimp, tea and spinach from China since 2000, both citing excessive antibiotic residue as the cause.

SARS and Avian flu seem almost passé in a banner year of lethal factory made products from China. This spring more than 14,000 American pets became severely sick, some even dying. The culprit traced back to feed coming from China, forcing recalls of more than 60 million packages of pet food. Melamine, the chemical believed to cause the outbreak is a coal by-product (also often used in industrial applications) not approved for use in human or animal food in the U.S. Melamine also increases the adhesiveness of gluten, the tainted ingredient linked to the kidney-damaged animals. Exposure to high levels of melamine proved toxic to rats and mice in laboratory tests and became all too obvious to the many unsuspecting families who lost pets. No known nutritional benefits are found in melamine, but the high nitrogen content mimics the appearance of proteins. This has caused it to be secretly added to feed and other food products, which falsely augment the nutritional profiles – a value to potential customers. The perceived higher quality demands a higher market price in what’s becoming a cutthroat manufacturing environment. Sadly, it appears the short term financial gain of selling potentially lethal products out paces the long-term benefit of full-disclosure and honest business practices. This is quite telling of a nation that may in fact represent a very real picture of the future for all humankind. On a planet where competition for quickly diminishing resources is becoming the norm, quality and safety measures are often an afterthought.

Click here to read the full article on Reality Sandwich.

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