While Wall Street Crumbles

October 23, 2008

WASHINGTON (Oct 23, 2008)—While Wall Street crumbled, poison seeped through a crack in the Great Wall of China’s bureaucracy over to our shores. And we barely paid it any notice.

It would be almost impossible to see a better example of the importance of food security if it were staged.

But there it is—from Vietnam to Lebanon to Tehran to Manhattan and Sydney to São Paolo, melamine from China is tainting all sorts of food products, even baby formula and candy.

So far, 41 countries have banned various food products originating from China. Some of those countries have outright banned all Chinese food products. Even Liberia, a country slowly emerging from years upon years of civil war, starvation, and strife, has chosen to ban Chinese milk products.

In China alone more than 50,000 people, mostly babies, had fallen ill from the contaminated milk as of September 21, reports Xinhua, the state news agency. Perhaps the scarier, less reported fact is this: the industrial chemical was intentionally added to give the watered-down milk the appearance of being higher in protein than it actually is.

Last year toxic levels of melamine were discovered in pet food, requiring a recall of 60 million cans in the U.S. alone. The wheat gluten that normally goes into the food was replaced by tainted flour.

And this isn’t the first time that mistakes by China’s farmers and ag businesses have harmed another country’s food supply—earlier this year defiled dumplings terrorized Japan and tainted toothpaste and corrupted cough syrup killed hundreds in Panama last year.

“To let that kind of melamine get into exported milk, on a scale that’s tainting the global supply and affecting markets all over the world, involves some pretty severe corner cutting and takes some sustained neglect in terms of inspections,” suggested Wallace “Dickie” Ellender IV, a crop grower from Louisiana.

It’s no wonder Americans overwhelmingly want non-imported food.

A 2006 Harris Interactive poll showed that a whopping 93% of Americans thought that it was somewhat or very important for the U.S. to produce food at home rather than depending on foreign supplies.

The strict food standards and advanced growing techniques used by U.S. producers ensure that America has the safest food supply in the world.

But Wallace Ellender points out that the farm safety net recently passed by congress is the underpinning of maintaining a vibrant domestic food sector.

Ellender put it into political terms “[O]ur farm policies help to keep our businesses afloat in times of unanticipated swings in the market or natural disasters.” He said. “It’s how we guarantee that all Americans have access to a safe, secure, and abundant supply of food.”

For 0.3% of the federal budget, that’s a pretty good bargain.

But even so challenges still exist. In between the headlines about the financial meltdown and a global food safety crisis, there were brief mentions of hurricanes and tropical storms ravaging southern growers like Dickie Ellender– hurricanes and tropical storms Gustav and Ike. To add to it, these came just years after Katrina and Rita, two natural disasters that proved nearly catastrophic for many Louisiana farmers.

“We need a little extra help down here as we wait for the 2008 farm bill to take hold.” he said. “We’re caught in the middle here, and I’m worried not all of us will be around next year without a hand up.”

Given the gruesome realities of imported food, let’s hope that help arrives soon.