May 02, 2007

Melamine in the Chicken. And Mung Beans and ...

What's this? Look at this AP story. Look ... closely:

... Yet in China, the mildly toxic chemical melamine is commonly used in animal feed and is even praised by some customers, according to the managers of a feed company and one of the chemical's producers.

... "We've been running the melamine feed business for about 15 years and receiving positive responses from our customers," Wang said.

Hmmm. Now the AP is calling melamine "mildly toxic." I thought the word was that it was supposed to be harmless. And 15 years? 15! I feel an attack of severe snarcolepsy coming on.

The chicken industry, please note, would like to join your government in reassuring you that though millions of chickens are known to have been fed contaminated feed, there's nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. Even though the recall includes protein concentrates from wheat, corn, soy, rice and mung beans. Yeah, because nobody eats that stuff:

... Occasionally, pet food manufacturers sell material left over from the molding process to animal feed manufacturers and that's how the contaminated pet food got into poultry feed, according to Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, the trade group that represents U.S. poultry producers, marketers and processors.

"It's like cooking cupcakes -- you get some of the dough on the pan, you scrape it off and throw it away. What they're saying is that somebody bought that material and it got mixed in corn and soybean that gets manufactured in poultry feed," he said.

... "Nobody buys feed from China," Lobb told CNN.

"Feed is made from corn, soybean meal, minerals... about 70 percent of ration is corn and that's all locally grown in the United States. Soybeans are all grown in the United States," Lobb said.

... Perdue and Tyson Foods -- two of the largest U.S. chicken producers -- do not import any protein ingredients from China used in their chicken feeds, company representatives told their supermarket chain clients Tuesday. ...

Right! Nothing to worry about, because the chicken companies don't import their feed from China.

They buy part of it from pet food companies that import feed ingredients from China. And then they mix it with corn that's grown right here in the United States. You like corn, don't you? It's as American as ... cupcakes! And soy? Come on, you've got to like soy. Look, look over there, it's a John Deere driving American farmer growing corn and soy! You like farmers, don't you? They grow it right here, all this animal feed that we mix with remaindered pet food that's also produced right here in our great country where we take a very stern view of putting melamine in our food supply. Honest.

See? Completely different. Nothing to worry about at all.

Because nobody buys feed from China. Which explains to me exactly why nobody's chickens have been eating melamine contaminated feed. Nobody's three million plus chickens in Indiana that were carefully nourished by the one feed mill we know they've checked so far.

And who, oh who, will save us? I don't know. Maybe we need a new czar of something-or-other. Or not.

Responding to growing public concern over tainted foodstuffs, the Food and Drug Administration today named a new food safety czar and ordered him to draft a comprehensive strategy to better protect domestically produced and imported products.

But advocates and lawmakers said what the agency really needs is broader legal authority to recall contaminated food and a boost in funding to hire more inspectors. ...

Does the Bush administration really think that we need another top administrator to feed bunkum to the press? Have you read the newspapers lately? Seriously, there's no shortage. But wait, it gets better:

... Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) today introduced legislation that would broaden the reach of the FDA and increase its clout.

The bill, which may be attached to FDA safety legislation now before the Senate, would give the agency authority to order recalls of contaminated or dangerous foods. Currently, the FDA relies on the bully pulpit to convince food producers to voluntarily recall problem products.

On imports, the bill would give the FDA the power to require that foreign food producers follow safety standards comparable to those in effect here. That would be similar to the authority now exercised by USDA over imported meats. ...

What! You mean the FDA doesn't already have the authority to issue recalls? They can't already require foreign food manufacturers to follow compatible safety standards? Well no wonder the Boy Wonder thinks that another big talker is all the agency needs.

But why stop with one czar? I say we hire plenty more. Our inspectors already don't have authority commensurate with their responsibility, so let's get rid of them and replace them with an army of food safety czars. And czar is a Russian term, those people are bad-ass! So you can feel absolutely protected just by knowing that a rhetoric-wielding czar is fearlessly scolding manufacturers on your behalf.

Our new czarist sermonizers will be tasked with going around to various food processing plants, as selected by a blind lottery, and will have the power to require all the workers and executives to spend a lunch period listening to a sanctimonious lecture about the importance of food safety and preserving Americans' health and trust in interstate commerce. Cupcakes! No, no wait, that chicken spokesman got me all confused ... Mom and Apple Pie! Then the czar can trundle off to their next appointment, the food company employees will go back to doing what they're told, and their managers will go back to doing whatever they can come up with to improve their quarterly earnings statement.

And nobody, but nobody, will purposely import melamine from China to feed to anymore dogs and cats. Or chickens. Or hogs. Most importantly, nobody has anything to worry about because of this isolated incident.

Posted by natasha at May 2, 2007 12:13 AM | Food | Technorati links |

Posted by: at May 2, 2007 02:32 AM

Discussion between the two main candidates ahead of the election

Posted by: ccoaler at May 2, 2007 02:33 AM

A small point - tsar [царь] is actually the Roman family name Caesar which is rendered into the Cyrillic alphabet as "Tsetsar" [цецарь] and shortened with use. The Germans spell it, "Kaisar".

The FDA has put an import ban on all Chinese vegetable protein products effective last Friday, but you have to know the ban is there to find it on their web site.

Posted by: Bryan at May 2, 2007 06:51 PM

I got that from a WaPo article, the kicker for me being this comment from "experts:

Experts conceded, however, that they know little about how the toxin interacts with other compounds in food.

Golly, makes me all fuzzy and warm just thinking about it!

Posted by: Duckman GR at May 3, 2007 03:24 PM

I've been a chef/catering owner working in New York city for 20 years. I've loved and cooked meat until last January. I've gone vegan and recommend to all the world that you do to.
Our food production system is broken. Our factory farming system is wasteful and immoral. Let's help stop global climate change, give the animals a break from their torturous existence, help the hungry in the world, and make our obese selves healthier and happier all by simply giving up meat and dairy.

Posted by: patrick at May 6, 2007 07:51 AM

patrick - While I commend your willingness to sacrifice for the cause of sustainability, you can't really have sustainable farming with positive soil nutrient retention without livestock. It just can't be done. One of the most eco-friendly types of farm is a managed grazing ranch.

It could reasonably be said that we could get by with a lot fewer animal products in our diets. Or that eating factory farmed animal products is unsustainable and damaging.

But not only is everyone in the world not going to become vegan, it isn't even clear that it's nutritionally desirable for everyone. I, for example (and pardon the repetition for those who might know this already,) would be in terrible shape. I'm allergic to gluten and soy and need a high protein diet or else end up a hypoglycemic basket case. While conversely, I've got a friend whose health is much improved since he went vegan; all manner of niggling little problems went away. We both eat healthy, for us, though our diets are virtually the other's kryptonite.

Anyway, my point is, it's not reasonable on a number of levels to say that veganism is the cure all for what ails us, though a case could certainly be made that we'd be better off if more of the people who could adopt a vegan diet were to do so. It's important to see that there's a world of difference between the utility of those two arguments.

Posted by: natasha at May 7, 2007 10:11 AM