Friday, April 13, 2007

Food Safety and China In The News

The Associated Press has a story today that visits the little known issue of food safety in the rest of the world and how it is impacting the rest of us under the harsh rubric of globalization.

As everyone except three guys stranded in Antarctica know, there's been a huge recall of pet food manufactured by Menu Foods, a Canadian producer of a lot of pet food that's sold here in the states. Even those three guys might have thought something was amiss when they cracked open a can of dog food and Bowser seemed a bit under the weather thereafter.

The fact is, this could have happened anywhere, and it highlights the international and sometimes murky nature of the secondary animal feeds market, which is a subject that yr average consumer doesn't spend much time thinking about if they think about it at all.

As it happens, I made a rather extensive study of the feed market and the subject of bad feed a couple of years ago, for which I never got paid by certain individuals who shall remain nameless.

It's enough to hope that the pain they feel is me grinding my grubby thumb in their eye.

In this case, it is alleged, the source of the contamination was wheat gluten imported from China that was contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in a number of industrial products but normally not as a flavor enhancer.

It's likely that the ultimate source of the contamination may never be known or the miscreants brought to the bar of justice.

One can also infer that there was knowledge of the contaminated nature of the wheat gluten, but the extent of the contamination was underestimated, or that it was unevenly distributed. This is quite possible when you consider that if the stuff was food grade it would have had no trouble being sold into the food market for higher prices. The managers of the company that sold the wheat gluten to Menu Foods of course threw up their hands and claim they didn't know nuthin'.

In fact, blending contaminated feedstocks with enough good material to dilute the resulting product to allegedly safe levels is fairly common practice. Here in the corn belt, there are periodic outbreaks of aflatoxin contamination and other mold problems with stored grain. The contaminated or damaged grain is bought at a price and feed is diluted to the upper limit of what can safely be fed to cattle or hogs. It's typically higher for finishing cattle because if a cow's going to the slaughter house, who cares if the last meal she has could cause liver cancer?

Wheat gluten is a proteinaceous material that's left when the starch is washed out of wheat flour. It's used as a food modifier and feed stock, and also to produce allegedly edible meat substitute products such as Tofurkey. We produce plenty of the stuff here in North America along with a lot of corn gluten which is also used for animal feed.

I'll have more to say about this subject as we move forward.


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