by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-safety

Nov 19 2008

Eating Liberally: melamine again

Kat’s question for me is “Shouldn’t the FDA keep melamine out of our domestic food chain?”  Well yes.  It should.  And thanks to Sokie Lee for forwarding the Mao poster from her “say no to made in China” campaign.  Still, I don’t think we should be too xenophobic about China.  After all, its food safety system is about where ours was before we got food and drug laws in 1906.  It’s just a lot bigger and more complicated so it has even more work to do to keep its – and our – food safe.  And here’s Sokie’s poster in miniature:

gotmelamine_mao_med.jpg


Nov 12 2008

China arrests melamine feed producer

According to Food Chemical News (November 10), China has arrested the owner of a poultry feed company in Liaoning Province.  The numbers are interesting.  Reportedly, he admitted buying 45 tons of melamine in July, using it to produce 287 tons of chicken feed, and selling 212 tons to the Dalian Hanovo Enterprise Group, the company that produced melamine-contaminated eggs sent all over China.  The remaining 75 tons has been destroyed.In the meantime, the Chinese agriculture ministry is reported to have sent 369,000 inspectors to examine 250,000 feed producers, and to have closed down 238 illegal farms.  It had already closed down 130 dairy farms, and 20% of the country’s dairy producers are said to be out of operation.

These sound like good steps to get the food safety system under control but what I’m hearing is that the government is dealing with safety problems piecemeal – one food at a time – rather than addressing the system as a whole.  Sound familiar?


Nov 11 2008

GAO says Obama should fix food safety

The Government Accountability Office says fixing the food safety system should be a high priority for the new administration.  Specifically, it asks the new President to:

  • Reconvene the President’s Council on Food Safety right away, and develop longer term structures to promote interagency coordination on food safety.
  • Develop a “governmentwide performance plan” for agencies to ensure that goals are complementary and resource allocations are balanced.
  • Encourage Congress to assign the National Academy of Sciences to analyze alternative food safety organizational structures.
  • Encourage Congress to pass “comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation.”
Oct 27 2008

Worried about food safety? You should be

 A new poll says 90% of U.S. consumers are worried about food safety, but 79% of the worried think the problems are with imported food and only 21% are worried about domestic food.  Everybody should be worried about both, if you ask me.  The U.N. says China needs to do something about its food safety problems, and fast.  That would help.  China reports that melamine has been found in eggs, of all things (the chickens ate contaminated feed?).  So would cleaning up our own food safety system.

Oct 22 2008

San Francisco Chronicle: Melamine

Today’s Food Matters column in the San Francisco Chronicle is about the melamine scandals.  Melamine is still a big problem.  It has just turned up as the cause of death of 1,500 raccoon “dogs” (animals raised for fur in China) and in pizzas in Japan.  There seems no end to ingenious uses for making food and feed appear to have more protein than they really do, never mind that melamine forms kidney crystals when mixed with one of its by-products, cyanuric acid.

For the science types among you, the intrepid Procter & Gamble scientists who identified melamine in pet food have just published their toxicology findings.  Take a look at Figure 1, which compares the chromatography of the “control” (safe) cat food with the cat food “tainted” with melamine and its nasty by-products.  And check out Table 1; it reports that nearly 15% of the so-called wheat gluten was actually melamine and cyanuric acid.  The amounts in Chinese infant formula were in the same ballpark, so it’s no wonder that so many babies got sick.  This is a huge scandal and clear indication that our food safety systems need a major fix.

Oct 14 2008

GAO: FDA must do better on produce safety and food labeling

For decades, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been pressing the FDA to do a better job of regulating the food supply.  These days, the GAO is dealing with produce safety.  It worries that the FDA has no formal program in place to protect the safety of fresh produce when it is so obvious that such a program is needed.  The GAO also scolds the FDA for not keeping up with monitoring of food labels.  The FDA has too much to do and not enough resources.  But, says GAO, the FDA would do better if it took this watchdog agency’s advice–but it doesn’t.  Why not?  The GAO doesn’t say so, but it’s politics, of course.  The food industry is ever vigilant against regulation.   This stance goes against the food industry’s best interest, in my view.  Yours?

Sep 27 2008

Melamine in coffee creamer? An update

It’s not easy to keep up with the widening scandal over melamine-tainted infant formula, although Wikipedia is a big help.  The New York Times has a full page on it today.  Yesterday, the FDA recalled a bunch of instant coffee and tea drinks because their creamers might be contaminated with melamine.  And UNICEF and the World Health Organization issued a joint statement warning mothers not to use Chinese infant formula.  Breastfeeding, they point out forcefully, is still the best way to feed infants.

All this reminds me of the unsanitary history of milk adulteration in the United States.  By the 1850s, health officials were complaining about the widespread practice of feeding nutritionally deficient swill to cows and watering down milk with magnesia, chalk, plaster of Paris and anything else to make it look creamy, never mind the effects on infants.  As a result of efforts by the New York Academy of Medicine, New York passed a state anti-adulteration law in 1862.   The 1906 Food and Drug Act laid the groundwork for eliminating most such problems, which is one of the reasons why I think national food safety regulation–with inspection and testing–is so badly needed.

What the Chinese are doing isn’t new.  It’s just that in today’s globalized food economy, bad actions do more damage, and worldwide at that.

Postscript: About the recalled White Rabbit candies.  Former Premier Zhou Enlai liked them so much that he gave them to President Nixon on his visit to China in 1972.

Sep 15 2008

FDA import rejections: a report

This is interesting.  The USDA has done an analysis of the kinds of imported foods rejected by the FDA for reasons of sanitation (the lack thereof), pesticides, and improper or no registration.   The winners are vegetables, seafood, and fruit, in that order.  This report was about the industries that are having the most problems.  It doesn’t say a word about the countries doing the exporting.  Maybe the USDA will do that next?  That’s the one I want to see.