Is America’s Food Supply Vulnerable
By Chef Vincent Tropepe
I would like to predicate this article, by first saying that this article is not to cause alarm or stress. It is however, to bring awareness to a potential risk that stems from something we are all going through, not just as a country, but really the entire world. That would be COVID-19 that was set loose on the world by China. It was late one evening that I was sitting in my living room thinking about the current state of the restaurant industry due to the Corona virus.
It was heavy reported and supported that China prevented travel of citizens from the infected area to travel within the country but did not prevent travel to other parts of the world – in essence protecting themselves as a country.
With this being said, this question came to mind, If China was able to unleash this virus on us without anyone knowing, can China taint the food supply that comes into the United States with another illness?With this question looming in my mind, I wanted to do some more reading and research and ask the proper authorities the questions that need some answering.
Every week millions of Americans are in supermarkets and wholesale clubs and it is often the low prices that catch our attention and most likely fill our shopping carts. Even conscious consumers may look at an ingredient list, but not think beyond that. Knowing the geographic orgin of what we eat is increasingly important as our food supply chain becomes globalized and for America this most definitely includes food products from China.
Let’s take a look at the most imported foods from China to the United States. Plastic Rice– yes you read that correctly; plastic rice. Considering that rice is eaten with every meal in China you would think that an ingredient like rice would be prized, but yes there is such a thing as plastic rice. Chinese authorities have been making fake rice that consists of a mixture of potato and sweet potato flakes and an industrial resin. The giveaway is that is stays harder when cooked then regular rice.
Buying cheap apple juicemay come at a higher health cost later. Inexpensive apple juice is more likely from China and what you are drinking is a cocktail of arsenic, toxic pesticides and chemical residues. Nearly 50% of the apple juice consumed in America is imported from China that equals to more then 400 million gallons a year. Even major brands of apple juice, that charges a premium for their product also may also sourced apples or juiced apples from China.
Cod, Salmonand Tilapiaare three fish varieties that have become highly marketed over the past decade. Over 80% of the Tilapia in the United States which equivalents to almost 400 million pounds was imported from China. Tilapia is farm raised and the water is pumped with antibiotics and growth hormones. The FDA and the Center for Food Safety have found that at least 50% of these three fish verities are fed animal feces and raised and grown in unsatisfactory conditions.
To see for myself how common this really is, I ht the aisles of my local supermarket and it did not take long to find products from China. As a matter of fact the first package of salmon filets I picked up was in a red, white and blue plastic bag packaging with the American flag located on the upper left hand corner that has a slogan “ A Tradition of Quality” to say the very least this packaging is very misleading. Although the company in the smallest of text says “Product of China” on the back of the package in fact meeting the disclosure requirements for packaging those who are not informed consumers or those consumers simply purchasing the product at first glance would infact think that this is an American product – but its not.
As I looked further, I headed into the produce section where I found prepackaged fresh bulbs of garlic in netting. The logo had a picture of mountains and the brands name sounded nothing less then what would be interpreted at first thought as an all American name that is until you turn the package over and it says “Product of China”.
For clarification purposes, I am not against China or the Chinese people. I have friends and close associates that are descendants of many Asian countries including China, North and South Korea, Japan and the Philippines just to name a few. But one of the things that we as a country should have clearly realized in the midst of COVID-19 is how dependant we are on a country like China who in fact is an adversary to the United States.
On September 11, 2001, terrorists who hijacked aircrafts and slammed them into buildings attacked our country and what we stand for. Those images for some people in America and around the world were just that; images – for me it was an eyewitness account as a culinary student in New York City as I saw for myself the city dissolve around me. I saw people jump out of the windows of the Worlds Trade Center towers now referred to as jumpersand I heard when their body hit the ground; and later on as the heat and flames were too much to bear I saw those towers crumble like a frustrated writer just crumbling up a piece of paper. Terrorism I am convinced, can take on many forms and it is my opinion that unleashing COVID-19 was an act of terrorism so China can further their agenda of world dominance.
Of course there are more food products then just these mentioned that are imported from China such as soybeans, corn, mushrooms and even chicken. As the title and subtitle suggests, I want to know if China can alter the food supply and potentially infect Americans with another illness.
I wanted to seek out the answers to some questions. On August 26th, I wrote to the Media Office of the Food and Drug Administration and had an email exchange with Press Officer Peter Cassell. Mr. Cassell was extremely thorough and expeditious in answering my questions. Mr. Cassell wrote, “Food imported from any country must meet the laws of the U.S. in order to be admitted. The FDA is responsible for ensuring that foods sold in the United States are safe and properly labeled. FDA regulations require that the label of a packaged food bears the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor.” Mr. Cassell continued later in his email to write, “No FDA regulation requires labeling showing the information about every entity involved in a food product’s supply chain, including seafood.” When I read this, I said to myself, “In efforts of transparency and to give American’s peace of mind – why not have every entity involved in a food products supply chain disclosed?”
Mr. Cassell continued to say, “ Even though we’ve seen an increase in imported foods over the last several decades, the safety of food products available to American consumers hasn’t waned thanks to the important roles that the FDA, the food industry and our regulatory counterparts around the world play in addressing the safety of imported human and animal foods.”
Mr. Cassell concluded his email to me with the following,”As we implement our goals, we understand that despite our best efforts to prevent and stop unsafe food from entering the U.S., it’s impossible to completely stop all unsafe food products before they hit our market.”
As much as I appreciated Mr. Cassell’s answers in many ways I feel that these answers are scripted replies. In one sentence he mentions the dedication and protocols the FDA has in place and then a few paragraphs later he mentions that it is impossible to prevent all unsafe food products before they hit the market. If the regulations and protocols are so strict, then no unsafe food product should ever hit the market.
It should also come as no surprise that China does not give permission to the USDA to enter or inspect Chinese food facilities. So between Mr. Cassell’s reply and that there is no USDA inspections allowed – I will leave this question to you… Can China Strike Again?