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No to Instant Death; Yes to Cancer and Poisoning!

Warnings about tainted products imported from China should raise concern warnings about safety of food produced in the U.S.

From all the roughing up in the press of China for their shoddy and criminal regulatory neglect, you’d think it was downright patriotic in the U.S. to regulate self-interested corporations. The hypocrisy of our tepid and schizoid embrace of corporate regulation drives me nuts.

Reporting on the discovery of anti-freeze in toothpaste and the execution of the head of China’s Food and Drug Administration equivalent, The New York Times and others have written about recent failures of the Chinese regulatory system which has resulted in dozens of consumer deaths and by many accounts, the slow poisoning of millions. The scrutiny and criticism is welcome and overdue.

“I have no idea what we can and cannot eat nowadays,” said Feng Jiangping in the article “As China’s Economy Roars, Consumers Lack Defenders.” “I have stopped eating many things based on media reports… . I only know there is less and less safe food for us to eat.”

Talk about a tragedy of the commons! This is unfettered capitalism riding roughshod over our most precious shared resources – our food system and public health.

In an opinion piece a week later, the Times writes: “The government [China] is also loath to do anything that might hinder the country’s breakneck economic growth.”

Wait a minute. Can we bring this tragedy a little closer to home? Doesn’t that sound just a little bit like the regulatory attitude in the U.S.? To its credit the opinion piece notes that the Bush Administration has “spent the last five years emasculating the American regulatory system” and recommends the creation of a more transparent system.

But that recommendation, echoed in other media, is principally directed at exposing the weakness of the FDA, USDA and Homeland Security in stopping tainted foods at the border. What about the dangers lurking in our domestic food system? And why are we importing so much food in the first place? Not to digress too much, but look no further than the explosion of free trade agreements and the Farm Bill, about to be re-approved, hopefully with important changes . The current Farm Bill puts our tax dollars to work encouraging an export-import food system instead of promoting food sovereignty.

I blogged earlier this week on the case of Dr. Tyrone Hayes, an integrative biologist whose research on Atrazine has left the Environmental Protection Agency unmoved. Dr. Hayes discovered that agri-chemical giant Syngenta’s biggest seller “chemically castrates and feminizes exposed male amphibians at low ecologically relevant concentrations.” Up to 80 million pounds of Atrazine are used on our corn crop, with troubling consequences as well for our water quality and the fertility of the workers that harvest our food. Despite these findings and despite the fact that Atrazine is not approved for sale in Europe, the EPA recently re-registered Atrazine for use in the U.S.

For further regulatory nightmares in our own backyard, take a spin to the Center for Food Safety’s website www.centerforfoodsafety.com. They feature an action alert about artificial hormones in milk, approved in the US by the FDA but banned in Europe, citing risks to consumers. With pressure from Monsanto, the “FDA refused to require mandatory labeling of dairy products from cows treated with rBGH.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning not to feel a whole lot safer than Feng Jiangping in China.

Why would our regulatory agencies sit on their hands in the face of well-documented scientific evidence? Shouldn’t aiding and abetting slow poisoning be cause for criminal investigation? I’m not suggesting capital punishment mind you, but maybe we can learn something from China’s recent reform actions, as calculated as they were to jumpstart flagging exports.

Our commons won’t survive long without INDEPENDENT regulatory agencies. Bless organizations like the Center for Food Safety, the Pesticide Action Network for holding them accountable. And send me a tax bill to firm up the FDA and EPA’s backbone and transparency. I’m happy to pay.