One of the problems with laissez-faire capitalism is that it fails to account sufficiently for the bottomless pit of evil that is home to men with dollar signs in their eyes.
It doesn’t matter if they’re American or Chinese. If they can make a buck and you die from their efforts, tough luck for you, pal.
A case in point is the melamine-infested “wheat gluten” and “rice gluten" that have been making their ways into the food chain via producers in China.
Melamine is essentially a high nitrogen chemical useful as a fire retardant and a pesticide. The latter use ought to be enough to raise government radar antennas in Washington to full mast, but hey, sleeping at the switch is a Bush administration specialty.
At any rate, some Chinese producers have been mixing melamine into wheat gluten and rice gluten because it tends to “fool” some lab tests into thinking it’s protein. The formula seems to be “less protein + more melamine = more profit.”
The Chinese producers are thrilled, because they’re making bigger bucks. The importers are thrilled, because they can buy and sell a bit cheaper, increasing demand for their services. The food processors are thrilled, because cheaper product in means higher profits out.
Or at least they were until the scandal broke.
The U.S. Government Departments of Commerce, Argiculture, Homeland Security? Well, as usual, they were too busy hiring good little Republican aparatchiks to take notice.
Sometimes I wonder if they weren’t also thrilled because some Republican and Bush campaign contributors were making bigger profits. I can’t prove that, although I wish some enterprising journalist would. The pattern certainly seems to fit.
Then the dogs and cats started dying. I dunno about you, but I got scared right away. I was leaving town to do some traveling, abandoning my blog for a while, but in my notice that The New York Crank would be on hold for a while I wrote, “…if poisoned wheat gluten could kill cats and dogs, it might be killing people, too? I mean, do you know where the wheat gluten in your bread comes from?” You’ll find it here:
While it depresses me to tell you so, hey dude, I told you so. Since then, guess what?
It’s been discovered that melamine is making its way into hogfeed and chicken feed. And now fish feed.
And moreover, it now turns out melamine is working its way into plain old wheat.
Which means just about everything you might enjoy eating is poisoned. Every-damned-thing.
That, of course, has awakened our Republican administration. Somebody’s eyelids fluttered open long enough to say, according to an Associated Press story:
“The level of contamination is expected to be too low to pose any danger to human health, said Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection.”
Yeah, just the assurances you know you can trust from those wonderful folks who gave you A Helluva Job Brownie, Mission Accomplished, WMD in Iraq and other tributes to forked tongue politics.
Hey, wasn’t America once the breadbasket of the world? Aren’t we still subsidizing farmers not to grow stuff? Why do we have to buy wheat and rice from China in the first place?
Laissez-faire free trade is the answer. The doctrinaire belief is that the market always speaks to the benefit of the consumer. A bunch of corporate sleazebags let poison creep into the food chain? Hey, no problem because the free market will take care of it. People who learn the stuff is poisonous will stop buying it.
Sure, after we’re all dead.
Here’s what we need:
1. America needs a five year ban on food or food ingredient imports – whether animal or human food – from any country that lets poison creep into the stuff living things ingest here. China, that means you too, you greedy poisoning bastards!
2. America needs food testing on all agricultural products. Al Quaida doesn’t need a bomb, it turns out. All it needs is a bag of fish food to start wiping out Americans.
3. America needs rigid, rigid, rigid FDA enforcement. You don’t “work with” people who poison you. You pop them in the pokey and feed them their own glutenized bread and water. That rule most certainly should extend to American citizens. People who import, distribute, or mix poison into the food supply are serial killers. No pun intended. (But hey, what really is in your corn flakes?)
4. America needs clear source labeling law that affects all food – every damn morsel – that Americans eat. This includes most especially beef, poultry, chicken and fish. But it also extends things like bread and breakfast cereals, all of which contain grains and glutens. The label should clearly and readably state the source of all ingredients. “Wheat gluten” is not enough. Is it Chinese wheat gluten, “wheat gluten of unknown origin” or “American wheat gluten?” The difference could mean life or death for you.
5. Support for the American family farmer. Not the agri-business combines. I'm talking about individually owned farms with net income of $200,000 or less. There are fewer and fewer of those every year. But we need more and more. If we ever get into a hassle with China and we start relying on some mega-manipulative argri-business trading company to import all our food, we’re royally screwed. You think energy dependence is a problem? Try food dependence.
We don’t need less government. We need more government, protecting what we put in our mouths.
But from the Bush Administration? Don’t hold your breath.