The Washington Post tackles the problems and opportunities of doing business with China’s food manufacturers.
(UPDATE: This LA Times article echoes the same news. Reg. req.)
From a consumer’s point, the problem is clear — tainted Chinese imports are commonly found at the border at an alarming rate:
In the first four months of 2007, FDA inspectors — who are able to check out less than 1 percent of regulated imports — refused 298 food shipments from China. By contrast, 56 shipments from Canada were rejected, even though Canada exports about $10 billion in FDA-regulated food and agricultural products to the United States — compared to about $2 billion from China.
The list and descriptions of rejected foods have “grossed out” officials. Also, hundreds of thousands of pounds of poultry has been caught being smuggled from China and other Asian countries.
On the other hand, The Washington Post says trade with China has become so integral that restricting imports may harm the US economy. A former assistant secretary of agriculture says “[US] farmers and food processors have drooled for years to be able to sell their food to that massive market… The Chinese counterfeit. They have a serious piracy problem. But we put up with it because we want to sell to them.”
China controls 80 percent of the world’s production of ascorbic acid, for example, a valuable preservative that is ubiquitous in processed and other foods. Only one producer remains in the United States, Hubbard said.
“That’s true of a lot of ingredients,” he said, including the wheat gluten that was initially thought to be the cause of the pet deaths. Virtually none of it is made in the United States, because the Chinese sell it for less than it would cost U.S. manufacturers to make it.
So pervasive is the U.S. hunger for cheap imports, experts said, that the executive branch itself has repeatedly rebuffed proposals by agency scientists to impose even modest new safety rules for foreign foods.
The Post also criticizes the Bush administration for blocking new regulations and says China is aware of the problem, yet not sure how effective it will be at solving the problem.
In related news: Toothpaste in Panama and Australia containing anti-freeze ingredient is linked to China.