We continue to monitor the safety of Chinese manufactured products. This week, it was reported that another tragedy occurred in China, as vinegar tainted with antifreeze is suspected of killing 11 individuals and sickening an additional 120 to 140 individuals. Antifreeze contains the chemical ethylene glycol, which is toxic to humans and can cause symptoms including diarrhea and vomiting. Investigators believe that the vinegar in question was preserved in plastic barrels that had previously been used to store antifreeze. The incident occurred in China’s northwest Xinjiang region during a communal Ramadan meal, which explains why so many individuals were affected by this poisoning. And it follows news reports from earlier this month that a Chinese official associated with vinegar production in the Shanxi province alleged that 95 percent of the province’s “aged” vinegar contains industrial acid.
Contaminated foods produced in China continues to be an issue, despite the Chinese government passing its first food safety law in 2009. In fact, in the first six months of 2011, at least 45 individuals died in China due to food poisoning. The Chinese government is responding aggressively to these continued incidents of food contamination, including this month arresting 2,000 individuals and closing 4,900 food businesses to reduce the practice of putting illegal additives in food. And the Chinese government has announced that it would give reward money to individuals who provide reports on contaminated food, although it is not clear how much money. Yet despite these efforts, food contamination has remained an issue, in part because of the complexity of the Chinese governmental bureaucracy and continued pressure on food producers to make money.
But what further complicates this issue is that Chinese food exports to the United States continue to increase annually. The Food and Drug Administration addressed the rise of Chinese food exports to the United States in a June 2011 report entitled Pathway to Global Product Safety and Quality. In the report, the FDA found that between 10 to 15 percent of all foods consumed in the United States are produced in China, and the FDA admitted that it does not have the resources today to regulate this increase in Chinese food exports to the United States. Therefore, the chances of contaminated foods produced in China coming to America and sickening/possibly killing Americans remains a growing threat, given the increase in Chinese food exports and a lack of U.S. government resources to monitor these exports.
We will continue to monitor developments as to China’s efforts to enforce its food safety laws and to incidents involving Chinese contaminated foods. As more information becomes available, we will update this blog