Friday, September 06, 2013

Going For Chinese Food Tonight?

The odds are pretty good for that, even if you don't decide to eat Chinese cuisine.  That's because of large percentages of such foods as tilapia (a fish) and apple juice sold in the US already come from China.  Indeed, when I last cleaned my freezer I noticed that the frozen beans I had there were labeled "Made in People's Republic of China."

There's nothing wrong with food being grown in any particular country, of course.  But there's something pretty wrong if food flown or shipped across half the world is still most cheaply produced that way, that China could really be the most efficient country in the production of most anything, so efficient, that the products can then be shipped all over the world more cheaply than they could be produced locally and still make a nice profit for everyone.

It's not impossible.  But it's extremely unlikely.  Other theories are that the farming method in China ignores environmental costs or that the Chinese workers are heavily underpaid or that the Chinese government subsidizes the industry.  Or all of those together, in varying proportions, depending on the product we are looking at.

Here's the worrying part of the question:  Past evidence suggests that quality control in China is poor and that the incentives managers and workers have contribute to lower quality, because low price is so important.  Bad quality control, combined with an increasing market share in food by China, means that any bad quality control will affect consumers all over the world.  Or at least in those countries whose governments are not willing to do their own additional quality control.

Chicken nuggets.  That's the most recent food product joining this particular dance:

Just before the start of the long holiday weekend last Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly that it was ending a ban on processed chicken imports from China. The kicker: These products can now be sold in the U.S. without a country-of-origin label.
For starters, just four Chinese processing plants will be allowed to export cooked chicken products to the U.S., as first reported by . The plants in question passed USDA inspection in March. Initially, these processors will only be allowed to export chicken products made from birds that were raised in the U.S. and Canada. Because of that, the poultry processors won't be required to have a USDA inspector on site, as The New York Times , adding:
"And because the poultry will be processed, it will not require country-of-origin labeling. Nor will consumers eating chicken noodle soup from a can or chicken nuggets in a fast-food restaurant know if the chicken came from Chinese processing plants."

Fascinating.  Let's get this straight:  First the chickens will grow up to adulthood and face execution in the United States or Canada.  Then they will be shipped to China, the first foreign trip they take.  In China they will be processed into foods such as chicken nuggets.  Those nuggets will then take the second across-half-the-world trip, to end up on your plate, perhaps!

But you won't know whether you are eating an adventurous traveler chicken nugget or just a stay-at-home version!

I doubt that makes any environmental sense at all, and I can't see how it can make economic sense,   What I mean by the latter is this:  If the same chicken was processed in the United States using exactly the same ingredients, rules and regulations, would it be more expensive than one which did two trips between the US and China?

There's more to this story, about planned changes in how chicken processing lines will be inspected by the USDA:

Basically, these changes would replace many USDA inspectors on chicken processing lines with employees from the poultry companies themselves.

What on earth could go wrong there? 

This would be hilarious if it wasn't potentially a serious health hazard.