Exploring Human Potential

China, Food and Fireworks

Posted on | June 29, 2007 | Comments Off on China, Food and Fireworks

Every day, the world (at least as defined by health) gets smaller, doesn’t it? Take the straight trade line between China and the U.S. Let’s look at just two exports.

The first accounts for a startling 75% of all sales in its category worldwide, with peak usage timed to celebrations around the world. What is it? Fireworks!

A little history… The first kind of fireworks — firecrackers –are said to have been created by Li Tian, a Tang Dynasty farmer, more than 1400 years ago. Today, Chinese fireworks production remains centered in his home town of Liuyang – proclaimed the “Fireworks Capital of the World” and producing 70% of China’s output. The biggest growth? Backyard shows of increasing magnitude. Feeding the market? The U.S. Sales last year — $900 million, up 50% since 2000. Safety? Improving, according to the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory. They declared 35% of the imports as unsafe in 1994, but rejected only 7% 10 years later. 10,000 plus injuries related to fireworks occurred in the U.S. in 2005 with 4 deaths.

In China, more than 400 people die each year from firework manufacturing and use. Sale of fireworks is legal in 45 out of 50 U.S. states. Beijing lifted its ban in 2006 for the Chinese New Year and 80% of its citizens lit at least one firecracker. 112 were injured. No one died.

The second export dominates again the world market. In fact 90% of the product imported and consumed in the U.S. originates in China. What is it? Catfish! About 80% of the seafood we consume in the U.S. comes from overseas, with China responsible for 22.4% of our fish imports to the tune of $1.9 billion.The problem? The FDA tested 89 samples of imported Chinese fish in 2006 and found that 25% of samples contained banned chemicals and antibiotics utilized and contaminating China’s vast fish farming operation.

Why the high residues of anti-fungals and antibiotics in their fish? Because the fish on farms are raised in small areas, with fish density 10 to 20 times as great as in natural settings. Hence, more disease. Think U.S. factory farms for beef, pork and chicken — all unnaturally corn-fed, as a comparison.

What are they sending us, beyond catfish? Try shrimp, tilapia, scallops, cod, pollock, and others. The FDA, after multiple warnings, has had enough. On June 28, it announced a ban on imports of Chinese shrimp, catfish, basa, dace, and eel, widely and enthusiastically picked up by all the U.S. news outlets.

But surprisingly, not one asked the question whether the FDA is checking out the U.S.-based fish farming operation for safety. Food safety checks haven’t exactly been the FDA’s strong suit of late. We have laws against additives, but is anyone monitoring domestic food as carefully as the Chinese variety? Or does that simply rely on U.S. producers to self monitor, who, by the way, have seen their prices drop 60% since 2001 as a result of offshore import competition. China’s problem could be their financial solution.

Point being this– viewed through the Health Prism, communicable diseases, marketing poor health habits, producing unsafe food, and creating products that can injure and maim know no geographic boundaries. When you hear dramatic reports, spun with nationalistic zeal pointing at other nations, remember, we likely have the same problem within our own boundaries, or, at the least, provide an easy dumping ground for a wide variety of materials, relatively unregulated and unwittingly consumed in large quantities — if of course, the price is right.


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