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February 15, 2008, Volume 15 Nr. 7, Issue 238

From Garlic Powder To Heparin.  
We Are At War With Ourselves.

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski
Every week I do the grocery shopping for the family.  On a quiet Tuesday evening, regardless of the weather, I head out from our home in Vermont to cross the border into New York state to acquire the week's provisions.  The ten-mile ride is to the closest commercial supermarket.  One of the items on my list was garlic powder.  The baking aisle contained expensive McCormack seasonings as well as the more generic house brand labeled Price Chopper "Always Save".  It did not matter whether I chose the pricier version of garlic powder or the cheaper one, they both contain the same ingredients: powdered garlic.  And they are both labeled: Product of China.  

The Price Chopper brand, "Always Save" has a cute red seal of quality on the yellow container which reads, "100 percent guaranteed quality".  There is also the oxymoronic statement, "Proudly distributed by Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc. Kansas City, Kansas, 86106.".  I proceeded to the customer service desk and told the polite woman behind the counter that I wanted to be able to buy garlic powder from garlic grown and processed in the United States.  She gave me an odd look as if no-one had ever brought this up before and handed me a sheet of blank white paper to write down my concerns and phone number and that she would pass this on to the manager.  I assume that she did.  However, it has been many weeks and I have not heard from anyone at Price Chopper, Granville NY.  Why am I not surprised?

I find it odd and perverse that I am buying garlic powder made in China in my local supermarket.  I find it odd and perverse when I cannot find garlic powder as a product of the United States when Gilroy, California has laid claim to being the garlic capital of the world!  The website states about Gilroy, CA, "Sometimes if you're unlucky, you can smell garlic while driving through."  Why can I not buy powdered garlic made in the USA?  The answer for this question is the same as why our hospitals are now using the blood anti-coagulant drug called Heparin that is labeled, "Product of China".  More on this later.  Garlic is just one of many food items that come from China.

Quality Assurance My Posterior

I cannot help but think about the tons of garlic powder and other food imported from China.  Try finding pine nuts, for example, that don't come from China.  With the on-going spate of quality control problems of Chinese products, it is alarming that so much food comes from that country and is consumed by U.S. citizens.  So, I went to visit the website and looked up their "quality insurance" which states, "The Best Choice and Always Save products are tested on a regular basis to make sure that they maintain consistent quality. All products are tested an average of four times a year."  And under "Always Save Products" the website states, "Always Save products are a value-priced brand for those customers who want the best price with a consistent quality. These products have a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee."  I note that "consistent" quality has nothing to do with safe quality and that "customer satisfaction guarantee" has nothing to do with customer health protection from contaminated food stuffs.  I hammered out the following email to Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc.,

Dear Madam/Sir:

Why is it that your garlic powder cannot be a product of the United States?  Made from garlic grown in Gilroy, CA, the garlic capital of the world.  Would you not be more “proud” to distribute US garlic powder than Chinese garlic powder?  May I also ask, how a capitalist enterprise such as you are provides huge profits to the communist state-owned industry of China?  Can you state unequivocally for me that the garlic powder is safe?  Testing it “four times per year” is hardly reassuring.  Can you unequivocally confirm that the Chinese workers are not being exploited and abused in the growing of this garlic powder?  If you have documentation to support your reply then I am anxious to review it.   I look forward to your reply.  Finally, being in the heartland of the USA, why not buy garlic grown in Kansas?  Why not be “proudly distributed by Associated Grocers, Inc. of a 'Product of the USA' ”?

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski
Wells VT 05774

Within ten-minutes of sending the above email, I received the following auto-generated reply:

The original message was received at Sat, 16 Feb 2008 07:15:46 -0500 (EST)

----- Transcript of session follows -----

<>... Deferred: Operation timed out with

Message undeliverable
Message will be deleted from queue

Again, not surprising.  This corporate website markets the hype about quality assurance, not the quality assurance itself.  From the book, Food Quality Assurance: Principles and Practices, we read, "Food quality" is "distinct from food safety" to the "extent to which all established requirements relating to the characteristics of a food are met."  The consumer seldom is aware of the "established requirements" of the product.  

Is China trying to poison Americans and their pets?  

In April 2007, a Chicago Tribune article reported,

In April alone, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration turned back 257 Chinese import shipments, far more than from any other country, FDA records show. At least 137 of them involved food rejected for reasons like 'filthy,' 'salmonella,' or because it contained banned ingredients. A good portion of the rejected Chinese shipments each month includes fish and seafood, such as catfish, shrimp, mahi-mahi, tilapia, eel and yellow fin tuna.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also refused the following products as being "filthy": salted bean curd cubes in brine with chili and sesame oil, teas, dried apple, dried peach, dried pear, candy, dried round bean curd, dried mushroom, olives, frozen bay,  scallops, frozen Pacific cod, sardines, frozen seafood mix, fermented bean curd, peanut milk.  The definition of "filthy" is, "the official term used when inspectors smell decomposition or gross contamination of food."   So then, we should smell the food we buy in the supermarket when it is labeled "Made in China" or "Product of China."  

The above FDA food rejections took place in just one month.  In May, 2007, the Washington Post reported that "dried apples were preserved with a cancer-causing chemical", and that "scallops and sardines" were "coated with a putrefying bacteria."  China is now the leading supplier to the United States of apple juice used as a food sweetener, garlic, garlic powder, sausage casings and cocoa butter. Wonderful.  Only a very small amount of food imported from China is inspected, perhaps about 1 percent.  This means that most contaminated products are making it to grocery shelves in the United States.  The Washington Post reports,  

For years, U.S. inspection records show, China has flooded the United States with foods unfit for human consumption. And for years, FDA inspectors have simply returned to Chinese importers the small portion of those products they caught -- many of which turned up at U.S. borders again, making a second or third attempt at entry.

We should keep in mind that the inspection statistics by themselves are meaningless without knowing the standards that are used for testing.  Testing of the product is only part of the problem.  It is still possible, for example, for a high quality product to make its way to supermarket shelves by slave wage workers spreading "night soil" in the fields.  

And what should we do about vitamin C?   The National Public Radio website reports that, "China now supplies 80 percent of the world's ascorbic acid — vitamin C."  This website further reports that the FDA term "filthy" refers to "a product that is not fit for human consumption."  Chinese medicine and Chinese tea has been touted as cures for many ailments.  Yet, much Chinese tea contains heavy metals.  On September 30, 2005, the Korean publication Yonhap Korea reported that "A sizeable portion of Chinese tea for sale in South Korea is contaminated with lead and insecticides."  Cadmium was also found in Chinese tea samples.  Former deputy commissioner of the FDA, William Hubbard, states about a process the Chinese tea producers have used to dry their tea leaves:

To speed up the drying process, they would lay the tea leaves out on a huge warehouse floor and drive trucks over them so that the exhaust would more rapidly dry the leaves out," Hubbard says. "And the problem there is that the Chinese use leaded gasoline, so they were essentially spewing the lead over all these leaves."

Essential Medical Supplies

I cannot help but wonder if the garlic powder I bought was truck-dried in an attempt to speedily take it to market.  I no longer will buy Chinese garlic powder.  I will make my own homemade garlic powder from garlic grown in local Vermont organic farms and from my own garlic beds.  But what about products that I cannot make myself or find substitutes for that come from China.  

Three times weekly we take a family member to dialysis.  Every so often this member has an important procedure at the major state health care facility.  I always strike up conversations with the staff, both professional and not.  One told me that they were concerned about the ever-increasing amount of medical supplies and products sporting the "Made in China" declaration.  As a result, I started looking for these items.  Immediately I found packets of Betadine, gauze, and alcohol wipes made in China.  The medical technician was wiping a client's arm with Betadine prior to the insertion of two large gauge dialysis needles.  The Betadine was indeed "made in China".  Were the needles and tubing made in China?  I asked the technician about the Betadine wipes and was told that most of the time the packets are dry and the solution hard to spread.  

On Aug. 16, 2007, the Bloomberg news agency reported on the Chinese production of counterfeit diabetic testing supplies.

A global manhunt launched by Johnson & Johnson has tracked to China counterfeit versions of an at- home diabetes test used by 10 million Americans to take sensitive measurements of blood-sugar levels.

Potentially dangerous copies of the OneTouch Test Strip sold by J&J's LifeScan unit surfaced in American and Canadian pharmacies last year, according to federal court documents unsealed in June. New Brunswick, New Jersey-based J&J, the world's largest consumer-health products maker, learned of the counterfeit tests after 15 patients complained of faulty results last September.

Shooting Into The Plumbing With Chinese Heparin 

A technician from interventional radiology told me that increasingly they are seeing injectible solutions that are "Made in China".  They expressed their discomfort with this trend, especially when it came to the important and common injectible anti-coagulant called Heparin.  And justifiably so.  Recently, the Heparin "manufacturer", Baxter, voluntarily recalled a batch of its product.  The drug Heparin that is labeled as being manufactured in the United States is made from an active ingredient that comes from a factory in China that has not been inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  Medications sold "Made in the USA" offer no confidence that they were not made from ingredients made in China. 

A February 18, 2008 Chicago Tribune article entitled, "FDA never inspected Chinese plant making Baxter's heparin" states,

A Chinese manufacturing plant that was never inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could be the source of a potentially deadly allergic reaction experienced by hundreds of U.S. patients infused with Baxter International Inc. 's blood thinner heparin.

The FDA inspires little confidence when it says of the suspect Chinese medical facility,

While no inspection of the facility has been conducted to date, preparations are being made to perform an inspection as soon as possible,"

At War With Ourselves

USA Military expenditure for 2008 is just short of $650-billion.  (Friends Committee on National Legislation)  Presumably, these huge and obscene expenditures are to ostensibly make the United States more secure.  How secure will we be however, when the food that we eat, the medical supplies, drugs and medications, utensils that we cook on and with, just about everything that we use to manufacture ourselves, is manufactured in foreign countries?  The military budget with all its obscene "investment" will not make us any safer when we willingly and consistently purchase the cheapest product yielding the highest profit.  The contradictions of Capitalism mean that we who are living within in a capitalist economy are always at war with ourselves.  We want the cheapest products and we are willing to pay less for them.  But, by giving up our manufacturing base we make ourselves vulnerable.  As our jobs leave and more people enter dead-end retail jobs (selling goods made elsewhere) our job security, salaries and wages are knocked lower.  We then find ourselves economizing by buying our products in Wal*Mart and dollar stores where very little is U.S. made.  The race to the bottom continues.

Mark Morford, the San Francisco Gate Columnist, in his article, "The machine gun of capitalism" writes,

...the system is working just exactly as those in control of the nation right now wish it to be working, with the most dominant, ruthless corporations in the world....still making the most money in the most destabilizing and environmentally devastating manner possible, while poor uneducated kids die like chattel in unwinnable wars trying to secure a tiny bit more of the source of their profit.

And somewhere in between, the nation's overall health and well-being are sacrificed like dazed lambs to an ignorant god, with our government offering up only the most meager, desultory efforts to keep it functional so as to not induce all-out fire-and-pitchfork revolt.

The ignorant god is profit .  The religion is the free market.  And both have made  the consumer who objects to the products made in China or anywhere else where safety takes a lower priority than the sale of the product into enemies.  Mark Morford makes reference to "our government offering up only the most meager, desultory efforts to....not induce all-out fire-and-pitchfork revolt."  That revolt, however, is in the making.  When it breaks out fully, we will again go to war with ourselves.  It is what capitalism does and induces best.  This time, however, after the neo-liberal model disappears, people will come before profits.  The capitalists will then have plenty of opportunity blaming and going to war with each other.  They deserve it.

We are again confronted with one of the most vexing aspects of advanced industrial civilization: the rational character of its irrationality. Its productivity and efficiency, its capacity to increase and spread comforts, to turn waste into need, and destruction into construction, the extent to which this civilization transforms the object world into an extension of man’s mind and body makes the very notion of alienation questionable. The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. The very mechanism which ties the individual to his society has changed, and social control is anchored in the new needs which it has produced.

Breaking news 19 Feb 08:

"The FDA thought it had inspected the Chinese factory that makes the active ingredient in Baxter International’s heparin. Turns out the agency had actually inspected a plant with a similar sounding name."

©2008 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, PhD
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