More tainted food imports from China

Bee on tulip drawingWe must sharpen food import standards and inspections.

It may be that we can no longer trust parts of our system of food safety.

Until then, it’s smart to be aware of low quality and unsafe products.

China’s exports of honey seems both primitive and sloppy that will require years of education to reach global safety standards.

Even when standards have been set, making them known to millions of far-flung peasants is an enormous task. Short-term profits are so important that farmers, traders and brokers have little incentive to change old practices.

The LATimes offers a report that summarizes a few problems.

Last year, China exported $3.8 billion worth of food to the U.S., including vast quantities of apple juice, garlic, sausage casings, canned mushrooms and honey.

There is a constant stream of tainted and sometimes poisonous food.

In any given month, though, U.S. customs inspectors block dozens of Chinese food shipments, including produce contaminated with banned additives and pesticides as well as seafood tainted with drugs.

Last year, duck farmers added cancer-causing Sudan dye to their animal feed to make yolks redder and bring a higher price. In 2004, baby formula missing key nutrients left 13 infants dead and hundreds ill.

The import of honey from China seems to illustrate the tremendous challenge ahead.

No one knows what percentage of Chinese beekeepers still use antibiotics.

In 2002, Chinese honey was blocked first by the European Union and then the United States after shipments tested positive for chloramphenicol, an antibiotic banned in foods by many countries because it has been shown to cause a potentially fatal blood condition.

In recent years, more farmers have switched to herbal medicines, said Li Chaohui, vice general manager of Huakang Foreign Trade Honey Product Co. in Fufeng. Li says his company collects honey from local farmers and sells it to factories along China’s coast, which are supposed to test for contaminants, filter the honey and package and label it for export.

Yet perhaps 30% of Chinese honey comes from bees treated with antibiotics, but the figure may be as high as 70%.