Thursday, May 24, 2007

The high cost of cheap ingredients

I've already written about the contaminated gluten from China (which caused all the pet deaths) making it's way into food for humans - well some food suppliers are getting nervous about other food additives from China - and YOU SHOULD BE TOO.

According to an article in the May 18th LA Times, China has become the world's leading supplier of food flavorings, vitamins, and preservatives - in fact many food additivies are available in vast quantities only from China. China is now the most predominant maker of Vanillin (a vanilla flavoring), Citric Acid, Sorbic Acid, B vitamins (commonly added to processed flour goods), and Xylitol.

The problem is that China's overall food safety record is very poor. Use of chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticies is heavy; and fraud and corruption often thwart the lax controls that do exist. Also, many small companies don't register their products as nonfood items, thus avoiding supervision. Since many food additivies also have industrial applications (e.g. citric acid is also used as a cleaner), they can get away with this. In recent years, US officials have issued alerts about Chinese honey tainted with a harmful antibiotic, Chinese candy containing sulfites that can cause fatal allergic reactions, and infant forumula missing vital nutrients which left a dozen babies dead in 2004.

A further problem is that many US food manufacturers don't even know where all their ingredients originate. Most packaged foods contain dozens of items from around the word acquired though a complex network of traders and brokers. For example, a Hostess Twinkie contains 39 ingredients - including vitamin B compounds, sorbic acid, red and yellow colorings - most likely made in China according to Steve Ettlinger, author of the book "Twinkie, Deconstructed." He asserts that not only do food manufacturers not know the origin of all the ingredients in their products, they don't want to know. "The more you know, the pickier you get and the more it costs," he said.

So what can you do - stay away from processed foods would be the ideal. And (hope I'm not sounding like a broken record) - shop ORGANIC.

Otherwise, call or write the food manufacturers and tell them not to get ingredients from China. Mission Food Corp. and Tyson Foods, Inc. are bowing to consumer fears and have put out a directive to get no more ingredients from China - whether they'll be able to accomplish this is questionable but it's a start.

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