Tainted imports

With the recent scare of melamine-poisoned pet food, pet owners everywhere are unsure of just what they can feed Sassy and Spike.

With the recent scare of melamine-poisoned pet food, pet owners everywhere are unsure of just what they can feed Sassy and Spike. Everything seems unsafe at this point, and rightfully so. The list of tainted pet food is long. But in this drawn-out event a more disturbing topic is brought to attention: America’s trade with other countries and the uncertainties involved with it.

Just what are we bringing into our county? What exactly are we paying for? Can we trust what we are buying? Should America become less dependent on other countries and depend more upon itself? After all, instead of Sassy dying, what if it had been your son or daughter, your brother or sister? It doesn’t seem too far-fetched that food contamination could spread to the human food supply. In fact, it already has.

In Mississippi and Alabama, two antibiotics banned in the U.S.–ciprofloxacin and enrofloxacin–were found in catfish imported from China after health authorities tested the fish. The U.S. isn’t the first country that has had to worry about tainted foreign goods. Other products that are imported from China, such as honey and shrimp, have been banned in Europe and Japan. And it sounds like China is notorious for this.

Washington State University nutrition Professor Barbara Rasco says that “[the Chinese] dump poor quality and unsafe products on our market and others across the world. Most producers cannot compete with the Chinese companies on price because of the widespread fraud.” And that’s just what the melamine was used for: fraud. Melamine is high in nitrogen and makes pet food look higher in protein. In adding melamine to the feed that they were selling to the U.S., they were then able to charge a higher price. And that is why Sassy died.

If it is well known that the Chinese do this to food that they are selling to other countries, and other countries are also banning food items from China, why are we still buying from them? Yes, it is more cost-effective for us to buy from the lowest bidder, but the only reason it is more cost effective is because they are selling us a faulty product. Is it really worth it to wait until the Chinese possibly put something in our food that doesn’t kill just our beloved pets? Are we willing to wait, and trust, a country that purposefully puts chemicals in the products that we are buying from them?

FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach and Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong are said to be working on a mutual agreement to improve inspections and safety on products that are being traded between the U.S. and China. “Mutual agreement?” You have to be kidding me. There is nothing mutual about this situation. The Chinese have been selling us poisoned feed. There should be nothing mutual about any agreement that may be proposed. If the U.S. is buying a product, then we should be getting exactly what we are paying for–nothing more, nothing less. If anything, the U.S. should tell the Chinese government that if they sell us one more thing that puts our safety in jeopardy, then that’s it. No more trade.

In 2005, the U.S. imported $243.5 billion worth of products from the Chinese. The only country that we imported more from was Canada at $290.4 billion. In exporting, China ranked fourth. We sold them $41.9 billion worth of products. (Feel free to take a look at the numbers at internationaltrade.suite101.com.) These are insane amounts of money.

There are many other countries in the world, and those countries would be more than happy to take a percentage of the $243.5 billion that we gave to China. I’m sure Americans would also love to have a chance at earning some of it as well.

If we reduced the amount of product that we imported from China, or if we ceased trade entirely, that would seriously hurt the Chinese trade industry. Their agriculture economy is already hemorrhaging. Imagine if they lost the U.S. as a customer. They’re trying to save product and earn more money now–what would they do if they couldn’t sell that product and earn that money?

America needs to become more self-reliant and self-sufficient. Put the money that is going to China into our own farms and companies. Test the products that American farmers and companies are producing, ensure that what we are getting is what we are paying for. It’s always easier to keep track of these kinds of things at home than if they’re thousands of miles away.

This country needs to be more vigilant in exactly what it’s importing, and at the same time, if we find something that shouldn’t be in the product that we are buying, then we, as customers, need to play the role of the angry consumer and hit the producers where it hurts the most: the pocketbook.