The China Syndrome

The massive recall of pet foods containing wheat gluten contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical, has focused attention on an issue most of us would rather not think about: the heightened food safety risks that come with widespread importing of foodstuffs.

As demand for its food products has exploded, China has tried to improve food safety. But it’s difficult in a land where there are so many scattered small family farms and pressure to keep up with the ever increasing demand. Drugged farmed animals, industrial pollutants, overuse of pesticides, cutting corners to save costs—all have led to food scandals in China and abroad. (In one of the more notorious cases, substandard infant formula caused malnutrition in hundreds of babies and killed at least 12.) Europe, Japan and even Hong Kong have banned some Chinese food imports.

Americans treat their pets like children, and a scandal of this magnitude will hopefully exert pressure on Chinese suppliers and the American companies that deal with them to tighten the controls.

But this may also be a good time to question why we are importing so much of our food. Does anyone else find it ironic that America, the world’s leading exporter of wheat, is importing wheat gluten from China?

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