Published on Taipei Times
EDITORIAL: A shameful tradition of tainted food
Friday, Oct 17, 2008, Page 8
In China, tasteless and colorless melamine has been part of the food chain for a long time. Its addition to Sanlu’s milk powder has now created a global panic over contaminated Chinese foodstuffs.
And this was not the first time.
In May last year, companies in China’s Jiangsu and Shandong provinces added melamine to wheat protein and barley protein powder, which caused thousands of pets in the US, Canada and other countries to fall ill or die.
More than 60 million pet food products were recalled. Feed for 20 million chickens, hundreds of thousands of cultivated fish and thousands of pigs was also contaminated with melamine.
The immediate reaction by the Chinese authorities to the allegations of poisonous animal food was strong denial, and it was only when the US insisted that it be involved and sent representatives to China to take samples that the scandal was exposed.
So what did the Chinese authorities learn from that incident? Nothing.
In the most recent crisis, local governments continued to offer denials even after New Zealand company Fonterra Co-operative Group used diplomatic channels to put pressure directly on the Chinese government. It is well-known within the Chinese industry that melamine is added to milk powder, vegetable proteins, processed food products and animal feed. The government knows it and tolerates it.
Melamine is one of many harmful additives, and even if the melamine problem were eliminated, other hazardous substances could be added to products.
On Wednesday, frozen green beans imported from China to Japan were found to contain 34,500 times the amount of pesticides allowed in Japan. The government immediately ordered a recall.
There is no end to all the problems with Chinese food products.
Importing countries must pressure China and demand that it meet its responsibilities by strengthening procedures to manage, inspect and ban contaminated food products and thus control the export of toxic food.
Taiwan’s Bureau of Standards, Metrology and Inspection and the Department of Health should meet their control responsibilities and implement stricter sampling of raw materials imported finished or semi-finished.
The government should amend the Commodity Labeling Act (商品標示法) to require that, in addition to listing manufacturing country, contents and nutritional value, labels also show the production process at the place of origin for raw materials to that consumers can make an informed choice as to the safety of a specific product.
Although China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Yang Yi (楊毅) said China would handle the milk powder incident satisfactorily and demanded that Duqing Co in Shandong send representatives to Taiwan to investigate its export of dairy creamer here, he has kept mum on the issue of compensation to the victims, which displays a total lack of sincerity.
The milk powder scandal has had a serious economic impact on the companies involved as well as public health in Taiwan.
The Taiwanese government and private sectors must demand compensation from the Chinese government and manufacturers.
If China does not provide an adequate response to compensation demands in a timely manner, Chinese products should be boycotted and people should take to the streets to protest when Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) visits Taipei.
I contacted Don at the Pet Food Products Safety Alliance about the recent problems with Nutro food. He emailed me back with suggestions and information. I believe it is important that all pet owners become more aware of how they can approach a suspected pet food problem.
Here is what Don said:
I took a quick look at your site and one of the first posts I noticed was
from a pet owner that returned all their food to the store. I recently put
together some general information on testing pet food here:
If there’s a single message I’d like to see get out to pet owners, it would
be, “Don’t throw away your evidence!”. You’re welcome to link to the page or
post the text on your site if you like, or even write up your own version.
It’s almost an automatic reaction to either throw the food away, or return
it to the store. I’d like to see more awareness among pet owners that those
samples may be the only way to hold pet food companies accountable for
poisoning our pets.
Please take a look at the above a link and follow the guidelines recommended. The Pet Food Products Safety Alliance has been instrumental in discovering and uncovering pet food company additives that could potentially harm a pet. This organization operates exclusively on donations so if you can, please contribute an amount you are comfortable with.
A big thank you to the PFPSA for continuing the battle to improve pet food safety standards.
Nutro denies any ties to its food and pet illness and deaths. Here is the press release from the Nutro Foods web site.
September 17, 2008
Q: I’ve heard reports that Nutro products contain potentially harmful levels of copper and zinc. Is this true?
A: NUTRO™ products are safe and conform to the standards set by the FDA, USDA and AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). The claims regarding the safety of Nutro pet food in a recent report posted on the Pet Food Product Safety Alliance website are unfounded.
In order for a food to provide all the essential nutrition for a pet, it must exceed the minimum requirements for all essential nutrients. AAFCO has established Nutrient Profiles which identify these minimum dietary levels for all essential nutrients in canine pet food products.
Specifically, these guidelines indicate that pet foods formulated to meet the nutrient requirements of dogs contain no less than 120 mg/kg dry matter and no more than 1,000 mg/kg dry matter of zinc in order to ensure that the requirements for zinc in dogs are met. Based on these guidelines, the 260- 400 mg/kg diet levels of Zinc found in Nutro™ Natural Choice Chicken, Meal, Rice and Oatmeal Formula (which converts to approximately 288-444 mg/kg dry matter) are well within AAFCO recommended levels. Like zinc, levels of copper in Nutro are necessarily above the minimum AAFCO requirements and do not exceed maximum requirements; they are well within recommended levels.
The report is correct in stating that there is a small minority of dogs that are sensitive to copper. These dogs are relatively few and need to be carefully managed with the assistance of a Veterinarian. This would be the same as with any dog that has special, specific needs which make it unique from the general canine population. Furthermore, copper is a critical factor in a dog’s antioxidant defense system and so it would not be prudent to restrict copper in the general population, as that would mean that a large group of dogs would not receive their required levels.
In addition to meeting a dog’s nutritional requirements, many Nutro™ products incorporate the scientific knowledge of the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition which has researched the role of key nutrients in delivering optimal skin and coat health and consequently have levels of zinc, copper and other nutrients that are higher than industry minimums. These nutrients serve as key drivers in maintaining skin and coat health and help to make Nutro™ products nutritionally sound.
Dr. Tiffany L Bierer
Health Sciences and Nutrition Manager
Mars Petcare US, Inc