WASHINGTON – While Americans are still recovering from a scandal over poison pet foods imported from China, FDA inspectors report tainted food imports intended for American humans are being rejected with increasing frequency because they are filthy, are contaminated with pesticides and tainted with carcinogens, bacteria and banned drugs.
Last month, like most months, China topped the list of countries whose products were refused by the FDA – and that list includes many countries, including Mexico and Canada, who export far more food products to the U.S. than China.
Refused by the FDA in April because they were "filthy":
- salted bean curd cubes in brine with chili and sesame oil
- dried apple
- dried peach
- dried pear
- dried round bean curd
- dried mushroom
- frozen bay scallops
- frozen Pacific cod
- frozen seafood mix
- fermented bean curd
Among the foods rejected because they were contaminated with pesticides:
- frozen eel
- frozen red raspberry crumble
Frozen catfish was stopped because it was laced with banned antibiotics. Scallops and sardines were turned away because they were coated with putrefying bacteria.
Toothbrushes were rejected last month because they were improperly labeled. And last week the FDA found Chinese toothpaste contaminated with a chemical used in antifreeze – the same chemical that killed people in Panama last year when it turned up in cough syrup.
Just three days ago, the U.S. warned consumers not to buy or eat imported fish labeled as monkfish, which actually may be puffer fish, containing a potentially deadly toxin called tetrodotoxin. Two people in the Chicago area became ill after consuming homemade soup containing the fish. One was hospitalized due to severe illness.
The FDA is also on the lookout for vegetable proteins contaminated with melamine – the chemical that killed American cats and dogs when it was imported from China in pet food.
In the past year, the FDA rejected more than twice as many food shipments from China as from all other countries combined.
Most of the time, the reason listed is simply "filthy," the official term used when inspectors smell decomposition or gross contamination of food.
Officials say FDA inspectors examine only a tiny percentage of the food imported from foreign countries – about 1 percent -- meaning most of the contaminated products make it inside the country and to the shelves of retailers.
In the age of globalization, food imports in America are big business and getting bigger. In 2006, they represented $64 billion – a 33 percent increase over 2003. No country is increasing its food exports faster than China – about 20 percent in the last year alone.
China has become America's leading supplier of apple juice used as a food sweetener, garlic and garlic powder, sausage casings and cocoa butter.
China has also attempted to export hundreds of thousands of pounds of chickens and poultry products to the U.S., even though it is not yet certified to do so. Chinese exporters disguise the meat by labeling crates "dried lily flower" or "prune slices" or "vegetables."
Despite the deliberate deception, the U.S. government is about to certify the Chinese to export poultry legally.
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