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A Costly Trade With China

Many Chinese goods found to be harmful, mislabeled, and defective

By Heide B. Malhotra
Epoch Times Washington, D.C. Staff
May 27, 2007

Returned cans of pet food fill a shopping car at Petco, March 19, 2007 in Miami, Florida. Less than two months ago, the FDA began recalling pet foods spiked with tainted rice protein from China. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Returned cans of pet food fill a shopping car at Petco, March 19, 2007 in Miami, Florida. Less than two months ago, the FDA began recalling pet foods spiked with tainted rice protein from China. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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- FDA to Monitor Toothpaste From China Friday, May 25, 2007

A May 24 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) press release warns that puffer fish, containing the lethal toxin Tetrodotoxin, which survives even cooking or freezing, have landed in American stores mislabeled as monkfish. The fish were imported from the People's Republic of China by Hong Chan Corporation.

"The product should not be eaten, it should be thrown away," said the release. "Consumers should wash hands thoroughly after handling the fish."

Products from China are often rejected by the FDA due to filth, misbranding, mislabeling, presence of unsafe color additives, poisonous additives, meat products from animals that died other than by slaughter, and items prepared in unsanitary conditions.

A laundry list of rejected products from China—published monthly by the FDA—tells a horrifying tale. In April alone, 257 import shipments from China were denied entry into the United States.

China was by far the country with the most shipment rejections. Mexico and India came next, with 140 and 122 rejections in April, respectively. As for imports from other Asian countries, only 43 shipments from Japan and 36 from South Korea were denied into the United States. Rejected imports from Mexico, including syringes, pharmaceutical products, and foods were found to be contaminated, unsafe for human consumption, tainted with pesticides, or mislabeled.

The FDA found that certain inhalers, pre-cooked meals, and black pepper from India contained salmonella or other harmful contaminants.

Comparatively, imports from Japan and Korea were often rejected not because of their being unsafe or harmful, but because suppliers had not received authorization to sell the goods in the United States or had failed to include information about their production and processing.

In April of this year, salted bean curd cubes from China's Shenzhen Koo Yick Foods Co. Ltd., were found unfit for human consumption. Frozen channel catfish from Yancheng Yaou Seafood Co., Ltd. contained salmonella and were mislabeled. Dried apples from Yantai Ruioing Commerce and Trade Co. were laced with saccharin and additives cyclamate and dulcin, both found to cause cancer. Medical vinyl examination gloves from China were found to be defective—they were full of holes.

Media reports tell of Chinese goods that were rerouted through other nations—goods that were relabeled and no longer bear the name of the Chinese exporter on the label. All of this was done to circumvent the more rigorous testing of products from China.

The FDA is doing its job, but one must wonder: Over the past several years, how many harmful products have slipped through its fingers?

Wake-Up Call

Less than two months ago, the FDA began recalling pet foods from Menu Foods, Inc., Del Monte Pet Products, Sunshine Mills, Inc., Nestle Purina PetCare Company, and at least 11 other brands.

The FDA announced that those brands of pet food were spiked with tainted rice protein from China. Within 4 weeks, FDA employees logged 12,000 complaints from veterinarians and pet owners, more than twice the number of complaints received annually, according to the FDA compliance coordinator.

Vinzhou Futian Biological Technolgy and Xuzhou Anyin Biologic Technology Development Company—both based in China—shipped tainted rice protein concentrates and contaminated wheat gluten to unsuspecting U.S. importers. The products were contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical used for tanning leather and not approved for human consumption.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture got involved because the tainted products were also used in hog feed, and melamine was discovered in urine from hogs at the American Hog Farm in Ceres, Calif. The contamination didn't end in California. Hogs from farms in California, Kansas, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and most likely other states were found to have been fed the contaminated feed.

At the end of last month, another announcement included chicken from about 30 broiler- chicken and eight breeder poultry farms, where contaminated feed was fed to the animals.

However, the FDA advised that should humans eat the contaminated poultry, they most likely won't get sick because of the level of "dilution of the contamination."

Earlier this year, the European Union found Enterobacter sakazakii, a substance that causes infant deaths, in batches of vitamin A imported from China.

Currently, almost all of the world's vitamins are manufactured in China. Chinese manufacturers have been cutting corners to undercut global competitors in price. Last year, the last vitamin C plant in the United States shut down.

With such low prices coming from China due to cheap labor and questionable business practices, food imports from China should rise substantially in the next few years.

During an FDA press conference, a reporter asked if every single product that comes from China should be tested for contamination, mislabeling, or any other problem that could affect the health and well-being of U.S. consumers. The answer was non-committal, but the FDA spokesperson offered to conduct a thorough investigation if "unusual spikes of inexplicable illnesses" occur in the United States.

Problems With China Do Not End Here

A related issue—and equally mind-boggling—is the origin of China's under-priced products, such as food, toys, appliances, electronics, chopsticks, and Christmas lights.

Those products are sometimes sold by front companies that use either parts or complete products made in China's notorious slave labor camps, also called "laogai," or re-education through labor camps. Detainees are forced to work without pay, under unhygienic conditions and are abused and tortured if they miss the assigned quota. Under U.S. law, goods made by slave labor may not be sold in the United States.

Consumers may think twice before buying a product that contains the "Made in China" label.

William Hubbard, a former deputy commissioner of the FDA, told NPR about one Chinese factory that manufactures herbal tea.

"To speed up the drying process, they would lay the tea leaves out on a huge warehouse floor and drive trucks over them so that the exhaust would more rapidly dry the leaves out. And the problem there is that the Chinese use leaded gasoline, so they were essentially spewing the lead over all these leaves," said Hubbard.

For China, it's merely a part of the strategy to keep products cheap—cheaper than competing exports from countries such as Mexico, Malaysia, and Taiwan. In addition, the strategy prevents Chinese currency from appreciating against the U.S. dollar to keep its products artificially cheap and attractive for consumers and foreign businesses.

The World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG), a U.S.-based, not-for-profit organization, points to a number of companies that are either front companies or use parts produced in such camps and sold outside China, on its Web site: http://www.zhuichaguoji.org/en/.

According to WOIPFG, Shandong Leader Handicraft Articles Co., Ltd., which produces handcrafted cotton quilts, collaborates with the Shandong Province No. 1 Women's Forced Labor Camp. And products made by Henan Rebecca Hair Products Inc. are actually produced by Henan Province's No. 3 Labor Camp and the Shibalihe Female Labor Camp in Zhenzhou City.