May 20, 2007

You Are What You Eat

Like many of you, when the recent pet food scare occurred I was a little frantic. My two cats are a royal pain in the arse on a daily basis, but like my sons, I've become attached to the little critters.

I was (selfishly) relieved to discover that the food we feed them wasn't on the affected list. After a veterinary intervention last year (hope he likes his new Mercedes we financed), we had to start feeding the girls only this expensive tinned food. Stupid- expensive. But apparently, safe- expensive. If the incident had never happened, they'd have been eating some form of the tainted food, I'm sure.

When it was finally discovered what was killing the pets (melamine, a chemical used in plastics and fertilizer), most of us finally learned that all of this garbage was imported from China. And apparently there are no governing bodies for pet food. Nice. And all we Fluffy and Fido-loving pet owners stupidly think we're keeping our pets healthy.

There's a more terrifying article in today's Star. Apparently this has just been the tip of the iceberg. We are importing huge quantities of food from China - for human consumption. And it seems we don't much care about how they grow that stuff, either. Tons and tons of fruits and vegetables and fish. Much of it coming from millions of small plot farmers, who are adding illegal and dangerous chemicals to increase their yields. It seems we are also importing cancer.

I care where my food comes from. I want local, though that whole '100 mile diet' thing doesn't work particularly well when you get winter. China is bringing in increasing amounts of our food, and they're doing it spectacularly cheaply. Well, when you're growing Chernobyl-quality stuff, how hard can it be? Read the linked piece and tell me if you'll ever buy something marked 'grown in China' ever again. And to our regulating bodies? Earn your bucks. Do your job.

After hunting through the cupboards, I sat down and popped up the New York Times. Oh, here we go. Toothpaste discovered in Panama has diethylene glycol in it - the poison found in antifreeze. Wait for it - toothpaste from China. And two weeks ago, another article
about the same thing being used in cough syrup killed 100 people. Yup, medicine from China.

Just as my breakfast was settling, the Washington Post continued the theme. They delve into the political reasons North American borders are so porous to such shoddy standards - the apparent lust to trade back to the Chinese. It seems we need a U.S. congressman or Canadian politician of some notable stripe to have a kid get sick. It's only important when it's personal.

Is this what we're heading for? Destroying our own farm land to import uncontrolled poison from half a world away? Importing and exporting can, and should, bring the best of the world to us, and let us send our best out. That's how it works. But there had better be a clear playing field on standards, and consumers should quickly understand you get what you pay for.

People have already had their pets used as canaries. Now we're going to use ourselves?


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