Thursday, May 24, 2007

US asks China to monitor exports & CPSC Powerless

My vote for quote-of-the-week goes to Senator Durbin, for the following:
"There is a harsh reality here: When it comes to food, ’Made in China’ is now a warning label in the United States"
I couldn't agree more. Here's the rest... bold and red emphasis is mine. (Thanks to Mike for both China articles!) Note that Monkfish from China has now been recalled too.

And Catfish tested positive for melamine - making the first time it's been found in the flesh of something that ate it, that we know of anyway.


U.S. Asks China to Monitor Exports

U.S. officials asked their Chinese counterparts to increase oversight of food and drug exports Thursday as the list of potentially deadly products reaching U.S. shores kept growing.

The U.S. asked China to require exporters to register with the government, amid other measures meant to provide greater assurance of the safety of their products. The requests came amid ongoing problems with Chinese exports, including chemically spiked pet food ingredients and, as of Thursday, potentially poisonous toothpaste and toxic fish.

"The Chinese understand very well that any nation that does not create an atmosphere of trust with consumers and customers, they will be disadvantaged quickly on the world market," Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt told reporters.

A Chinese Embassy spokeswoman declined to comment other than to refer a reporter to previous statements made by government officials. Earlier this week, Vice Premier Wu Yi, in Washington for high-level economic talks, warned against politicizing economic and trade issues.

...

The problems don’t stop at pet food. For April, China was No. 1 in countries whose imports were stopped at the border by the Food and Drug Administration. The list includes filthy mushrooms, drug-laced frozen eel and juice made with unsafe color additives.

"Obviously, there is a problem in China. It keeps getting bigger and we keep seeing more problems in different realms," said Chris Waldrop of the Consumer Federation of America.

On Thursday, even more potential problems were disclosed: The FDA said it was stopping all imports of Chinese toothpaste to test for a deadly chemical reportedly found in tubes sold elsewhere in the world. The testing will look for diethylene glycol, a chemical commonly used in antifreeze and brake fluid, spokesman Doug Arbesfeld said. The imports will be released only if they test negative for the chemical. The announcement came following reports that tainted Chinese toothpaste was sold in Australia, the Dominican Republic and Panama.

The FDA also announced an importer was recalling 282 22-pound boxes labeled as Chinese monkfish that it distributed to three states. Two Chicago-area people became ill after eating the fish, which FDA testing later revealed contained life-threatening levels of tetrodotoxin, a sometimes deadly toxin. Importer Hong Chang Corp., of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., believes the fish may actually be pufferfish, which can contain tetrodotoxin.

"There is a harsh reality here: When it comes to food, ’Made in China’ is now a warning label in the United States," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who earlier this month exacted a promise from FDA commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach and Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong that they would work toward a mutual agreement to improve inspections and the overall safety of food products and drugs traded between the two nations.

When asked Thursday if consumers could trust the safety of food imported from China, von Eschenbach told The AP: "This is one area where we have an ongoing opportunity for continuous improvement and that’s what we are going to pursue."

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chairwoman of the House Appropriations’ agriculture subcommittee, pledged to hold a hearing to examine Chinese imports.

"This is becoming a day-by-day event. We got monkfish _ poisonous pufferfish _ as just yet another example. And they’re investigating toxic toothpaste imported from China. This is truly out of control," said DeLauro, who criticized the administration’s food and drug safety requests to the Chinese as nonbinding.


And something I hadn't heard of until today. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is currently powerless - they have NO ability to perform regulatory activities.

The CPSC needs at least three commissioners to perform regulatory activities and to levy fines. The commission has not had three commissioners since former chairman Hal Stratton, another Bush appointee, abruptly resigned July 15, 2006 to become a lobbyist.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Act, which created and governs the CPSC, the two remaining commissioners can continue their regulatory activities for six months after a vacancy has been created. After those six months, their powers are stripped until the President fills the vacancy and as of Jan. 15, 2007, that has been the case.

Here's the rest:
Bush Pick to Head Safety Agency Withdraws
By Joseph S. Enoch
ConsumerAffairs.Com

President Bush’s pick to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission succumbed to pressure from Democratic Senators and consumer advocates who vehemently apposed having an industry lobbyist head the consumer agency.

Just one day before the Senate Commerce Committee was set to vote on Bush’s controversial pick, Michael Baroody, the executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers withdrew.

“It became clear that he wasn’t going to get the vote, so I think he realized there just wasn’t any point in going forward,” Hank Cox, NAM spokesman and Baroody’s self-described “close friend,” said somberly.

Bush’s nomination drew so much heat because Baroody has virtually built his career around fighting against consumers' rights for the benefit of industry.

“His nomination to this critical post was astoundingly inappropriate and would have put American families at further risk because of his interest in weakening safeguards against potentially dangerous products,” Joan Claybrook, president of the nonprofit consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, said in a prepared statement.

Within days of Bush’s nomination, Democratic Senators showed dismay that Bush would pick someone with Baroody’s background.

Even an ex-CPSC commissioner couldn’t believe it. “This had shock and awe written all over it,” Ann Brown, who chaired the commission from 1994 to 2001 said. “He was the worst possible choice to lead the CPSC.”

...

In a prepared statement, the White House said it is reluctantly accepting Baroody’s withdrawal.

“We are disappointed he will not have the opportunity to strengthen the CPSC's ability to protect American consumers,” according to the statement.

In the likely event Baroody would not have won the vote before the Commerce Committee, Bush still would have had the opportunity sneak Baroody in through a recess appointment. Recess appointments are generally reserved for emergencies. However, Bush has frequently relied on it to get controversial nominations into high level posts.

Cox said Baroody did not want it to come to that.

“Mike Baroody has been in town (Washington, D.C.) almost 40 years and he is a man of dignity and character.”

Consumer advocates are pleased with the outcome, but are concerned about the future of the commission.

No Quorum

“The good news is that the Bush administration’s candidate has been withdrawn,” Consumer Federation of America spokesman Jack Gillis said. “The bad news is that this agency remains leaderless and without a quorum of commissioners.”

The CPSC needs at least three commissioners to perform regulatory activities and to levy fines. The commission has not had three commissioners since former chairman Hal Stratton, another Bush appointee, abruptly resigned July 15, 2006 to become a lobbyist.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Act, which created and governs the CPSC, the two remaining commissioners can continue their regulatory activities for six months after a vacancy has been created. After those six months, their powers are stripped until the President fills the vacancy and as of Jan. 15, 2007, that has been the case.

If Bush takes as long as he did last time to find a replacement, the commission will remain powerless for another six months.

Regardless, Consumer advocates and Brown are still hailing this a success.

“Not having a quorum is definitely better,” Brown said. “Not that we want to be down a commissioner, but who knows how long he would’ve been in there. Possibly well into the next administration.”

“The Baroody nomination drew attention to the important mandate of the CPSC to be the nation’s strongest advocate for consumers and the safety of their products,” Sally Greenburg, senior product safety counsel for the Consumers Union wrote in an e-mail. “We urge the administration to look for a candidate with the qualifications to further that mission.”

“Now there needs to be some pressure on the White House to nominate a qualified candidate,” Brown said.

For months, CPSC spokespeople have assured ConsumerAffairs.Com that no new regulations were being held up by the lack of a quorum. But CPSC spokesperson Julie Vallese changed her tune today.

“The time is coming where the lack of a quorum may start holding things up,” she said.

Vallese said nothing is being held up currently, but “that’s not going to last forever. … In the coming months, things are going to come up for a vote.”

Vallese wouldn’t say what regulation is soon to be pending a vote, however, the agency is currently working on:

• A rule that would limit the percent of lead found in children’s jewelry.
• Legislation that would make upholstered furniture less flammable.
• Updated design legislation for portable generators.
• Safety standards for all-terrain vehicles.

Is there no end to the ways the current administration is screwing things up?

For more of what's going on in China, see this article:

Do bananas spread Sars? China gripped by health scare

By Clifford Coonan in Beijing
Published: 25 May 2007

The word on the streets of China's cities is that bananas from the southern island of Hainan can cause Sars. And that Magician brand instant noodles poisons you because they use oil extracted from human corpses provided by funeral homes.

China is in the grip of a food safety scare, and although it has generated a number of bizarre rumours circulating in frantic text messages, the issue poses a serious potential threat to international trade.

Late last year, Hong Kong government chemists detected in salted duck eggs the Sudan II industrial dye, which was fed to the birds to make the yolk in their eggs extraordinarily red, a colour Chinese consumers see as a sign of high quality.

The Chinese government has pledged to get to the bottom of the scandal - and introducing standardised practices when it comes to food safety has become a major issue.

In Beijing, the city authorities have also announced plans to better monitor food products entering the capital after several food safety scandals emerged. Such is the mood there that some people are now saying that bad food, rather than lobbying about controversial issues such as Tibet, could be the main risk to the Olympic Games in the city next year.

Billions of pounds worth of counterfeit and substandard goods, from snack bars to fake liquor and medicines, to face creams, are produced every year in China.

Counterfeiting often extends to branded foods and you have to read the labels carefully in shops to make sure that you are getting the right food. Alcoholic drinks are particularly prone to copying and it is important to check to see if your beer or your breakfast cereal is the real thing.

China revealed in 2004, in one of its most highly publicised health scandals, that 13 babies had died from malnutrition in the eastern province of Anhui after being fed fake baby milk powder. But the problem is going global, spreading way beyond China's borders.

Chinese-made food products which are exported are being examined for toxins after safety breaches involving poisons in dog food and toothpaste, following reports of tainted products arriving in the Dominican Republic and Panama.

The Dominican Republic authorities said they had removed 10,000 tubes of the Chinese toothpaste brands Excel and Mr Cool from shelves after learning they contained diethylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze and brake fluid.

During talks this week between Washington and Beijing, the United States said food quality from China was a "top concern" and called on Beijing to improve food safety standards. The Americans want China to make food regulation more transparent, and to allow their audit teams to travel to China to examine the food factories and farms.

The Chinese government has launched investigations into the use of melamine - a non-food-related, industrial additive that found its way into the food chain and caused at least 16 pets to die in the US - and the companies exporting toothpaste containing the lethal chemical.

Meanwhile, the company which makes instant noodles under the "Magician" brand has had to take out newspaper advertisements to publicise the findings of scientific research showing that their products were not made from human body oils.

The manufacturers believe their competitors started the rumour, but everyone is suffering as sales of instant noodles, which are to Chinese cuisine what fish and chips are to British food, are dropping sharply.

A mass outbreak of food poisoning could be extremely damaging for the image of the Olympic Games, which begin in August next year. One scenario being thought through is if a team of top athletes came down with Beijing Belly just before a race.

To avoid that nightmare, the city is planning to increase rewards for uncovering unlawful production methods from 10,000 yuan (£660) to 50,000 yuan, the Beijing News reported.

(See the rest at the link above)


For even more, see my previous post "Stop all Chinese Imports"

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Volunteers Needed! Get food off shelves...

howl911.com, itchmo.com, thepetfoodlist.com, petconnection.com, petfoodtracker.com and spockosbrain.com have joined together to ask for your help.
Update 6-10: Recalled food was purchased from a
California store on 5-29th – this stuff is still out there!
We need Volunteers to help get recalled food off store shelves. Read this post at Spocko’s Brain for instructions. Print a list (or two) on this site. Visit stores, then report safe stores here at Itchmo.com.

Printing Information:
1. Print the main FDA Pet Food Recall page http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/petfood.html – this will be handy to show retailers who haven’t heard anything about the recall. (3 pages)

2. Print the list of 14 Major National Brands - it includes flavors and date information where applicable so you can tell if specific products for these brands have been recalled. The brands are: Alpo Prime Cuts, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul, Doctors Foster and Smith, Eukanuba, Gravy Train, Hill’s Science Diet, Iams, Jerky Treats, Lick Your Chops, Mighty Dog Pouches, Natural Balance, Nutro, Pounce, Royal Canin. (It’s 7 pages and includes FDA contact information.)

3. Print the List of All Brands – it will remind you what products have been recalled - but it does not give you date and flavor information, there is just too much to put in one document. (7 pages, but the 7th page is links to more detailed information so you don’t need to print it)

If you want, and are going to a store that you know has store brands that have been recalled (such as Walmart), go to that recall information at the links on the summary or at the FDA site and print it out. Some of the information is formatted in ways that make it difficult to read (one of the main reasons for this site), but it’s better than nothing.

Note: The FDA is the official source for all recall information and recalled products. This is an unofficial volunteer effort to help get the word out and get recalled foods off of shelves. We’re doing the best we can but can’t guarantee these lists are completely accurate. Again, here is the official recall site: http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/petfood.html