Sunday, July 29, 2007

An Order of Kung Fu to Go

Amazing the stuff that's happening with food these days. Not that it's any worse or better than it ever was, but that, when there's a blip in the killing-factor, the whole world can go on a grub alert.

The recent tainted pet food 'thingy' is a case in point. Producers of some 'fancy-dan' pet nourishment corporation bought what they thought to be a harmless Chinese-produced by-product to 'beef up' the protein content of their product. Little did they realize that the canny Chinese had been putting a few additives of their own into things including 'melamine' - a protein usually found in plastics and counter tops. Melamine, while passing through the gut of some ruminant like ourselves is harmless, apparently it has a toxic effect on the excretory system of pussy cats in particular. When people's tabbies and Sylvesters starting ailing, the kitty litter hit the proverbial fan and the lawsuits started flying, and the blame was placed squarely on the Chinese. Never mind the pet food folk who don't test what they tip into the mix.

Now, it strikes me that not all that long ago China was a wet fart away from mass starvation at times. They used to be a main reason the federal government subsidized the railway companies and western wheat growers in Canada. The annual Chinese wheat sales were budget makers. All that, subsidies and sales are gone now, a miracle has occurred in China. But I missed it.

Over the years since then I've seen and read nothing in the media about China's 'wirtwissenschaftwunder' in the food sector. Oh yeah a few years ago I cottoned onto the fact that Chinese 'gelatin' treats had become a big hit in some parts of Canada, and the world. Right, no big deal. But apparently China has reached a point where she has not only managed to feed her teeming multitudes, who only stopped increasing the teeming part a year or two ago for the first time ever. China has become a net exporter of food. Basic food materials like the above grain derivative for cats, but also chicken and seafood. China has become not only a producer of cheap consumables but a source of cheap food. And there lies a rub.

The chinese notion of how food should be handled has taken some time to catch up with the new mass food production facilities. What is fed to food and the additives food animals are given, are not controlled with the same rigor as they are 'here. Not that we're much better, but the Chinese can be downright lakadaisical. You can say one thing about them, however, the food bosses don't get to screw-up twice. In fact the 'handshake' they get includes a lead pill and a permanent retirement. If this was the case here, those top-dog CEO's who command millions in salaries and bonuses would deserve it - if a screw-up or a rip-off was going to cost them their lives, instead of six months on a crappy par 3.

The Chinese react a lot more quickly to criticism than our folk do. There was a mild flurry last week when some mid-level purveyors of off-brand canned food in Louisiana started a recall because somebody had suffered an attack of botulism and claimed it was from some of their chili. There's nothing like botulism to put the wind up food canners, and WalMart - the main customer. Two years worth of production was being called back.

What do they do with two years worth of canned stew and chili? Wouldn't want it in my landfill. Opening, testing and reselling to a hog operation , or the like, would cost more than getting it all back. Best to buy a warehouse, stockpile and forget it. Let some whiz-kid find it in 50 years after profits have all been taken and turned into stuff that's worth nothing.

I'll bet, if somebody really checked, there are some food sources here that fall below Chinese standards. The raids for illegal immigrants at Swift's factories are an indication that they're running on a maximize-profit basis. But, hey, those immigrants would do what they're told safety-wise, they wouldn't want to lose a steady job.

Where are we on 'mad cows'?

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