Globalization’s Negative Dividend Forces Hands-On Vigilance

{mosimage}Basically, without delving into the reasons, what can’t be manufactured or sourced in the United States can surely be located anywhere on earth and imported here from any country. Offshore producers in developed and developing countries have geared up to manufacture or grow virtually everything, thus satisfying consumer needs and desires everywhere. As for food, nothing is ever out of season.

However, the drive to ramp up production in certain regions or countries to fill the void in specific products caused by a dwindling American manufacturing base, coupled with the strong push by American firms to find overseas supplier-partners may have been too fast, hectic, erratic, careless and – yes – greedy.

Recently, it has become evident that a host of imported consumer products, toys, drugs as well as food and its ingredients have proven to be inferior, dangerous or deadly. China has been deemed the biggest culprit.

For example, William Hubbard, former associate commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said on PBS’ NewsHour (see article in ID Report of June 15) that many products manufactured in China with questionable ingredients are slipping through the FDA’s inspections and entering the U.S. food supply. Some of the food products have been made with deadly melamine that was mislabeled as wheat gluten.

In their quest for cheaper labor and ingredient sources, American companies have made their way to Chinese or other Asian manufacturers, where quality control and food safety is lax or nonexistent.

“The flavorings, the flavor enhancers, preservatives and leavening agents and other things are continuing to come from less developed countries overseas,” Hubbard said. If a defective item is a toaster, consumers can return it, he said, however, if it’s food that is potentially poisonous, the result is unknown – even to FDA inspectors – until after it’s too late.

Hubbard stated that some foreign-made apple juice contains inulin, an imperceptible chemical that waters down the juice without chaning the flavor.

“Inulin would make it taste just like real apple juice and even FDA's own labs were having trouble finding a chemical in there. It was really an economic fraud to water down real apple juice and only use a small amount of real apple juice. And that was a very common problem and it goes on today,” Hubbard said.

Imported organic food, such as applesauce, is made with organic apples but it may also contain ascorbic acid to prevent spoilage. Hubbard said that the additive is okay and safe but “if it’s coming from a place where no one is checking it out, then there could be some potential concern.”

American companies should look out for the safety, health and nutrition of their fellow Americans.
Hubbard said nefarious Asian seafood breeders are adding to fish ponds illegal antibodies called fluoroquinolones or an anti-fungal agent called malachite green. “And then that fish will arrive here in the United States with these illegal chemicals in them. And FDA has found tremendous problems with that. These are illegal drugs that are a big problem for human health and should never be in our seafood,” he said.

He said shrimp has been particularly problematic.

“Imagine the shrimp coming up from a hot Indian Ocean deck, put on a boat hours before it gets into port. And then it decomposes and it smells so bad you dump sodium saccharin all over to hide the odor and then ship it to the Americans. That’s not something people want,” he noted.

This week The New York Times wrote about the unusually large amount of brand-name defective Chinese-made toys entering the United States. The latest recall involved 1.5 million Thomas & Friends trains and rail components. China represents 60% of all toy recalls, the New York Times said.

“Combined with the recent scares in the United States of Chinese-made pet food, and globally of Chinese-made pharmaceuticals and toothpaste, the string of toy recalls is inspiring new demands for stepped-up enforcement of safety by United States regulators and importers, as well as by the government and industry in China,” the daily said.

We are not advocating sealing U.S. borders to foreign-made products or toning down globalization. In addition to its financial, commercial and political benefits, globalization also fosters peace, security, fraternity and other warm and fuzzy feelings (in certain regions of the world).

Nonetheless, the injuries and deaths caused by sub-standard foreign-made products means that wide-eyed American companies have to be cutting-edge in monitoring their overseas partners. Contracts and promises to abide by manufacturing specifications are obviously woefully inadequate to protect American consumers.

The FDA is also not up to the task. Experts said that the agency needs an immediate infusion of $450 million for it to staff up to fulfill its mandate of safeguarding the health of Americans. Even if its supporters in Congress found the money tomorrow, it would take time to hire and train inspectors to deal with the tonnage coming out of China alone.

“I think this shows how these commodities and this includes drugs as well, move around the world in constant arbitrage with no decent tracking system by entrepreneurs who have no reason to care about the safety of the food. We’ve seen recent drug contaminations like this so there needs to be a system in this country to at least protect Americans. We can’t protect the whole world, but at least we can take care of our own people,” Hubbard said.

U.S. importers must be proactive and act now because it would take too long for bilateral treaties to allow U.S. government inspectors to work in foreign countries. Short of buying offshore facilities or partnering with foreign producers, U.S. importers must permanently station their representatives in offshore facilities – much like USDA inspectors in domestic meat processing plants – who will monitor and verify with hands-on assurances that the products and food are manufactured and grown according to American safety and health specifications, and that no one is shipping any illicit, dangerous or deadly ingredients or finished products to these shores.

It is incumbent on American companies that are globally inclined to look out for the safety, health and nutrition of their fellow Americans.


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