I love the smell of free trade in the morning...smells like antifreeze
June 4, 2007 12:40 PM   Subscribe

First hundreds of pets were killed by the poisonous food additive, melamine, from China. Then it turns out that this poison got into the human food chain leading to humans. Then there was the flap about cough syrup killing thousands of people. Then, there was that warning a couple days ago about imported monkfish actually being deadly puffer fish. And now the FDA has issued warnings that toothpaste imported from China has ethylene glycol in it. Yes, the same ethylene glycol that keeps your engine running in the winter. China responds to the warnings by saying "Hey, we printed the ingredients on most of the labels, it's not our fault if antifreeze kills you."
posted by dejah420 (73 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Vote with your pocketbook and don't buy anything ingestible made in China. Simple.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:45 PM on June 4, 2007


Yeah, that's all bad. But the guy in charge of a lot of the corruption the lead to this stuff, the Chinese equivalent of the FDA chair, was sentenced to death for his misdeeds. Now that's government accountability.
posted by psmealey at 12:52 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


No, Burhanistan, not simple.

The problem is that ingredients in processed foods aren't sourced, nor are ingredients in restaurant meals. Unless you can make a commitment to cook from scratch (and that includes no dry breakfast cereals, no mass-produced breads or pasta, etc., etc.), you simply can't know where the ingredients in your food come from.

Go look at a box of spaghetti or a can of fruit: does it say where the wheat or sugar come from?
posted by watsondog at 12:56 PM on June 4, 2007 [8 favorites]


well, at least they don't put MSG in that shit
posted by matteo at 12:58 PM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Burhanistan - the labels on many of these things don't tell you where the product was made. Go check your toothpaste, for instance - mine gives a distributor's name and address, but that's all. And the pet food was made in the U.S with some ingredients from China, so the label wouldn't help there even if it did say where the actual kibble was made.
posted by dilettante at 12:59 PM on June 4, 2007


As Jackie Mason said recently (somewhere on YouTube I don't have the link handy), everything you eat will make you sick and maybe kill ya, so the answer is finding a disease that you can live with.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:01 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


How did you resist the temptation to write the post in ALLCAPS?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:01 PM on June 4, 2007


I'm sure the free market will sort all of this out. Right? Unrestricted trade good, government regulation bad.
posted by adipocere at 1:04 PM on June 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


This is the kind of thing that makes the anti-globalization folks throw rocks at riot police.

But is it surprising? China has those nice low wages and remarkably few environmental regulations to deal with. That they're also lax about ingredients just follows naturally. They'll make a public example of one official so it looks like they care, then it's back to business as usual.
posted by tommasz at 1:06 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


The problem is that ingredients in processed foods aren't sourced, nor are ingredients in restaurant meals.

I dont know about other cities but here in San Francisco there has been a big push to eat all-local foods. This includes Artisanal breads. Ground Zero for this is probably the Ferry Buidling stores and farmer's market. But there's also a whole bunch of restaurants following suit on the Chez Panisse model (which even shuns bottled water) and sourcing completely locally. Offhand, I can think of dozens of restaurants doing this. Its become a major fad here.
posted by vacapinta at 1:10 PM on June 4, 2007


I'm sure the free market will sort all of this out. Right? Unrestricted trade good, government regulation bad.



I grok your sense of irony, here.

I suppose a libertarian or a free-marketer would say that people are free to vote with their dollars, and are free to not choose such products, or products that do not identify the source of their ingredients.

It's just that current consumer society is set up in such as way as to make it impossible to do so, which is why we need government help.

It's hard not to think that the people who suffer the most from this are the poor. I mean, who buys their toothpaste at a dollar store?
posted by KokuRyu at 1:11 PM on June 4, 2007


Maybe someone will start an internet petition to help end globalization.
posted by chunking express at 1:14 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


"It's hard not to think that the people who suffer the most from this are the poor. I mean, who buys their toothpaste at a dollar store?"

My mother used to buy knock-off Colgate toothpaste from the dollar store all the time. Some came from Vietnam or Laos, others Brazil, she once brought some fake-ass Dove from Turkmenistan. That was fun. Owning something from Turkmenistan that is, not using it. You'd be dirtier after you used it.

Adulthood is great.
posted by jdotglenn at 1:19 PM on June 4, 2007


Melamine is no more a poison then table salt. (that is, the LD50 is the same).

To say that the Chinese government thinks this is "no big deal" is pretty insane. They just sentanced the former head of their FDA to death. That sounds like a pretty major step to fix the problem.
posted by delmoi at 1:22 PM on June 4, 2007


I suppose that's true if the problem actually was "not enough dead bureaucrats in China", but it does nothing to fix the "crap mislabeled as food" problem.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:42 PM on June 4, 2007 [5 favorites]


Sodium Chloride would not be approved by the FDA as a food additive if it had to go through the approval process today.

Also mentioned in the thread you link to, delmoi, is the guy has been in jail for 2 years. All this stuff has happened after he was arrested, so they can't be taking it too seriously. Not to mention your little fact was mentioned in the second comment to this post. You do read these threads before you post, no?
posted by Eekacat at 1:44 PM on June 4, 2007


They just sentanced the former head of their FDA to death.

Because he was the one buying and selling all the melamine, right?

The trouble is that the Chinese have a distributed corruption problem, not a centralized one. There will be no simple solution to this problem and it will take a long time to sort out.
posted by GuyZero at 1:45 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yes, the same ethylene glycol that keeps your engine running in the winter.

No, it isn't.

Diethylene glycol, the chemical detected in the toothpaste, is C4H10O3 and boils at 244 °C. Ethylene glycol, the primary constituent of most antifreeze is C2H6O2, and boils at 197 °C.

While the mechanism of toxicity is similar, they are not the the same substance.
posted by oats at 1:53 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Melamine is no more a poison then table salt. (that is, the LD50 is the same).

So all those pets aren't dead, then?
posted by emjaybee at 2:05 PM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


I mean, who buys their toothpaste at a dollar store?

You don't live in New York, do you?
posted by bshort at 2:19 PM on June 4, 2007


Outsource the jobs to the cheapest-labor places. Purchase the goods from the cheapest-production places. It's a recipe for (financial) success -- what could go wrong?
posted by davejay at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2007


I mean, who buys their toothpaste at a dollar store?

The poor; aka the most likely to be ill-informed about the risks.
posted by davejay at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2007


Pets have been eating counter tops? No wonder they are dying
posted by A189Nut at 2:27 PM on June 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


KokuRyu writes "I mean, who buys their toothpaste at a dollar store?"

davejay writes "The poor; aka the most likely to be ill-informed about the risks."

Davejay, did you read the sentence KokuRyu wrote immediately preceding that question?
posted by Bugbread at 2:27 PM on June 4, 2007


So all those pets aren't dead, then?

Delmoi is right about the LD50. Not that I've looked it up, so maybe he's technically wrong, but the point is that the thinking up until now has been that melamine isn't toxic. I don't think they've proven that it was the melamine that is responsible for these deaths—there was certainly initially a lot of controversy about the claim.

It's possible the melamine is toxic to pets but not humans. It's possible that it's toxic to both pets and humans.

You have a bunch of mysterious pet deaths which, though rising enough above the noise threshold to be statistically significant, is still relatively rare and with an unknown cause. On investigation of the pet foods, it's found that melamine is in the foods and it doesn't belong there. It's not nutritionally worthwhile yet artificially inflates the protein score of the food. So there's bad-faith whether or not the melamine is toxic. Melamine seems to be the anomaly, so that's where the investigation has focused. I personally wouldn't be surprised if, at some later date, it's concluded that the melamine wasn't responsible at all.

This is all based upon what I read a couple of weeks ago. Maybe there's new findings.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:34 PM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


We should just export them some chicken in retaliation.
posted by Foosnark at 2:36 PM on June 4, 2007


KokuRyu writes 'It's hard not to think that the people who suffer the most from this are the poor. I mean, who buys their toothpaste at a dollar store'

I don't think it was the poor who were caught out by the great Wine Fraud of 1985, in which large quantities of Austrian Wine were found be have been cut with Anti-freeze
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:37 PM on June 4, 2007


A189Nut writes 'Pets have been eating counter tops? No wonder they are dying'

Actually, they've been washing their faces with inferior Chinese Magic Erasers
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:41 PM on June 4, 2007


"...the first thought may be a recognition of one's ignorance and vulnerability as a consumer in the total economy. As such a consumer, one does not know the history of the products that one uses. Where, exactly, did they come from? Who produced them? What toxins were used in their production? What were the human and ecological costs of producing them and then of disposing of them? One sees that such questions cannot be answered easily, and perhaps not at all. Though one is shopping amid an astonishing variety of products, one is denied certain significant choices. In such a state of economic ignorance it is not possible to choose products that were produced locally or with reasonable kindness toward people and toward nature. Nor is it possible for such consumers to influence production for the better. Consumers who feel a prompting toward land stewardship find that in this economy they can have no stewardly practice. To be a consumer in the total economy, one must agree to be totally ignorant, totally passive, and totally dependent on distant supplies and self-interested suppliers."

"...How are they to protect themselves? There seems, really, to be only one way, and that is to develop and put into practice the idea of a local economy - something that growing numbers of people are now doing. For several good reasons, they are beginning with the idea of a local food economy. People are trying to find ways to shorten the distance between producers and consumers, to make the connections between the two more direct, and to make this local economic activity a benefit to the local community... They want to give everybody in the local community a direct, long-term interest in the prosperity, health, and beauty of their homeland."

— Wendell Berry, The Idea of a Local Economy
posted by weston at 2:47 PM on June 4, 2007 [4 favorites]


delmoi writes "at sounds like a pretty major step to fix the problem."

No, no no no no NO! nooooo Jesus F. King Christ !

Repeat with me. NO, it does NOT fix anything.

Why ? Simple ! Because anybody with a 1/4 of a brain will never ever accept that position again ! I would NEVER assume any position of responsability that carries death or prison or unlimited economical responsability , no matter the amount paid, no matter the power given. Nor does killing anybody resurrect the death or cure the harmed, it only satisfies bloodlust of some idiot.

Such problems are _systematic_ problems that can't be dealt nor by single person neither by a whole army division ; what is needed is a SYSTEM of control that regularly takes samples from the stream of products and tests it for -dangers- (defects and shortcomings ? that's commercial problem not a safety problem). If one is found, the whole stream of products (all of them, regardless of the importing company) from that company is halted. No questions, no time given, stopped at port. AT ONCE.

Of course open process, transparent rules and methods of analysis, the least burocratization possible, OR ELSE move your business somewhere else. Clearly it's all financed by importers, who better find out scientifically sound and verifiable test methods..or bring their business elsewhere. Let THEM put some money on this system, not a dime should come from the state coffers ...and if the product prices will rise, oh well too bad find a way to distribute it over consumers.

One would say that it is impossible, that it's bloody murder and how dare I stop the free market ? Well , let' see how the invisible fucking hand by Adam Smith fixes the problem ( Smiths being so incredibily misquoted, as if he really was a visionary idiot, believing in invisible Gods maybe?).

Yet of course some will construct this as a barrier to entry for little companies on the market ! WAAAA, I can't enter the market ! Nobody talked about placing unreasonable requirements such as individual piece testing ; I am NOTsuggesting that, for instance, a local biodiesel producer can't collect spent oil because it can't afford x million dollar super duper antipolution methods, with standards so rigourous that one would think they were written SPECIFICALLY to exclude the little fast intelligent players from markets (which is what happens regularly, I guess)
posted by elpapacito at 3:25 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Now this "Seafood imports from China raised in untreated sewage"
posted by 445supermag at 3:28 PM on June 4, 2007


I wonder what would happen if we banned the import of all foodstuffs from China...
posted by mstefan at 3:57 PM on June 4, 2007


There may be some political public-opinion manipulation going on, too. There's some folks in the VP's office who are trying to stir up China/US hostility.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:02 PM on June 4, 2007


On the toxicity of melamine, I saw several articles a while back claiming that the deaths were mostly likely the result of interaction between melamine and cyanuric acid, which was also added to food to artificially increase protein readings. There's a New York Times article here on cyanuric acid being added to food in China, an AVMA press release on the cyanuric acid discovery here, and a Washington Post article here explaining how the interaction between the two chemicals proved fatal to pets.

Ethereal Bligh: There may be some political public-opinion manipulation going on, too. There's some folks in the VP's office who are trying to stir up China/US hostility.

I haven't really seen any evidence of that- for the most part, it seems like the US government has been trying to bury this issue. It doesn't make the FDA look good, it doesn't make the prevailing ideology of unregulated free trade look good, and a lot of wealthy members and backers of the Administration would take it in the bank account if trade with China were regulated more or reduced. Personally, I think that's what should indeed happen, at least until China cleans up its act on this and many other things, but I somehow doubt it's going to.
posted by a louis wain cat at 4:31 PM on June 4, 2007


445supermag, Zheng's death sentence was for personally taking bribes and vigorously fostering corruption for a decade or more, not just for having contaminated food occur on his watch.

If the toothpaste contamination is similar to the contamination in the cough syrup, the shipping labels were supposedly falsified several times as the DEG-labeled-as-glycerin passed through several countries between the factory and where the substance was added to the medicine.
posted by hattifattener at 4:55 PM on June 4, 2007


买家当心
posted by furtive at 4:59 PM on June 4, 2007


The People's Republic of China, a communist state in name and a corporate-fascist one in practice, is being held up as the example of the failure of the free market? That's like blaming Richard Pryor for Dane Cook.
posted by chlorus at 5:28 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


What causes this sort of thing is: someone, somewhere, thinks to themselves: "I can make more money by doing this thing, that will put other people at risk of death or injury. Sounds good. I'll go do that."

All of those people need to be punished. Preferably with consequences equal to the harm they cause.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:44 PM on June 4, 2007


Let me clarify that: everything, to some extent, causes some risk to yourself and to others. The line of acceptability needs to be drawn somewhere, where it is clear and is justified. I suggest that it be drawn at the point where the violator ought reasonably to know (ie, a reasonable person in the violator's position would know) that his or her actions would lead to harm. There already are such laws on the books in the USA and indeed in China, although the punishment doesn't seem to be sufficient to cause much deterrence.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:56 PM on June 4, 2007


vacapinta writes "I dont know about other cities but here in San Francisco there has been a big push to eat all-local foods. This includes Artisanal breads. Ground Zero for this is probably the Ferry Buidling stores and farmer's market. But there's also a whole bunch of restaurants following suit on the Chez Panisse model (which even shuns bottled water) and sourcing completely locally. "

What do they do for stuff like bread? I don't remember a lot of wheat or corn fields in California last time I was there.
posted by Mitheral at 5:58 PM on June 4, 2007


All of those people need to be punished. Preferably with consequences equal to the harm they cause.

That is particularly difficult when the business in question is wholly or partly owned by the government.
posted by chlorus at 6:17 PM on June 4, 2007


Yes Mitheral we grow wheat in California - always have.
http://westernfarmpress.com/news/052407-california-wheat/
posted by speug at 6:33 PM on June 4, 2007


And corn of course
href="http://http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/7223.pdf">
posted by speug at 6:34 PM on June 4, 2007


Mitheral writes "I don't remember a lot of wheat or corn fields in California last time I was there."

It depends what you mean by "a lot", but CA produces millions of tons of each annually, which is an order-of-magnitude match for consumption in the state.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:36 PM on June 4, 2007


Cool. Doesn't really work here though. If BC grows wheat it's got to be a pretty small crop. Any semi staples you have to do without on the buy local diet?
posted by Mitheral at 7:02 PM on June 4, 2007


Mitheral: 100 Mile Diet in BC.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:09 PM on June 4, 2007


Except that it cost them something like $80 a day to keep that diet up. It's not quoted in that article, but regardless of exact $ amounts, it was an expensive exercise.
posted by GuyZero at 7:19 PM on June 4, 2007


Here's a Texas wheat mill...which while isn't in California, proved to me that I could find a mill within 100 miles of where I live, and I'd be willing to bet that almost any state/province/populated area with an agricultural history would be populated with mills. Wheat grows just about anywhere, and anywhere that other crops/herds were raised, someone grew wheat. It and corn were the backbone crops of north american civilization.

It's only been in the last 50 years or so that food has become a supermarket commodity. Previously, people ate what was in season, and what could be reasonably shipped to them without spoiling. Grocers in my grandparent's era (great grandparents era of some of y'all) pretty much stocked what the local farmers grew.

But people wanted strawberries out of season, and cucumbers all year long, and tomatoes that look perfect but taste like mealy mush...for some unknown reason.

"Local eating" is absolutely doable, it's just a lot of work.
posted by dejah420 at 7:28 PM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


I grew up in the Northern California central valley, and I will say there's a shitpotload of rice, corn, and wheat grown there. There's also a hell of a lot of other stuff grown there, and is probably one of the easiest places to do a 100 mile diet. The town I grew up in had a farmer's market in the 1970's (and was actively pursuing recycling then too, freaking weirdo Californians!!!) I was lucky enough as a kid to work for a consulting agronomist, and any farmer that wanted to do well would be rotating crops and other things we'd call sustainable now, and this was in the '70's.

To add to what dejah 420 says. People not only ate what was in season, but preserved it while it was in season. Be it by canning or drying, or freezing but that might not be the best example. Grains that are dried are easily stored. When I was a kid I knew many neighbors that had their own canning recipes, even to pickled watermelon rinds. Yes, perhaps it is more work than going to the supermarket and getting Canadian greenhouse grown peppers fresh year round, but I know personally there's a lot of satisfaction involved in growing your own and processing your own for use year-round. A bit more of a challenge now that I am in Colorado, but certainly do-able.
posted by Eekacat at 8:00 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Seconding the idea that a non-local diet is sort of a recent aberration. Growing up on my grandparents farm, there was no such thing as a refrigerator.

I remember getting up at the break of dawn with my grandmother to go gather the food for the day. It included a visit to the tortilla makers down the street, to another farm which owned cows to get fresh milk, to the baker, to the fruit and vegetable stands manned by local farmers. Later in the day, a visit to the butcher who had just finished slicing up animals killed that morning. If you wanted a fresh chicken....well, the chicken was literally killed and prepared while-you-wait.

When my mom brought a refrigerator into the house, my grandmother asked what it was for. My mom told her you could take left-over food and store it for the next day. "Don't be ridiculous", my grandmother replied, "if we keep the day-old food then what will we feed to the pigs?"
posted by vacapinta at 8:14 PM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oh, and Ethereal Bligh, LD50 is a standard based on mice (or another species if so specified), not humans. The LD50 for humans would be hard to measure for more than just political or humanistic reasons, but also practical reasons considering the relative lifespans.

Also, I believe the original rash of pet deaths were due to rat poison rather than the melamine added to boost the protein analysis. Last I checked there's no consensus as to what the toxicity of melamine is for pets, but rather it is not an accepted additive to foods for humans or pets.
posted by Eekacat at 8:16 PM on June 4, 2007


Oh, and Ethereal Bligh, LD50 is a standard based on mice (or another species if so specified), not humans.

That's in response to what? At any rate, LD50 for humans or other animals upon which a drug hasn't been tested is often estimated.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:56 PM on June 4, 2007


Can't help but think all this bad-china press is just an attempt to discredit them, either for the usual hatred (like wal-mart) or in some retaliation that China don't want to buy US bse meat. (which is a pretty messed up situation).

We had tainted diet pills from china, and bad beef from USA, neither hit the media as loudly (as observed by myself!) :)
posted by lundman at 10:06 PM on June 4, 2007


Well, this does seem to capture people's imagination rather more securely than rumours of inhumane, sometimes child, labour.

Thank goodness they don't make superior products or we'd condone any abuse. If you know, the products were cheap enough.
posted by dreamsign at 1:35 AM on June 5, 2007


Who imports all this crap anyway?
Maybe they should have just a small bit of responsibility here; especially as they probably distribute it as well.
Are there not import controls in USA? The Food + Drug act is supposed to regulate these ingestibles. Surely this is where the problem is; by letting it into the country in the first place.
posted by adamvasco at 2:46 AM on June 5, 2007


I've said it before and I'll say it again: China scares me. They're too big to ignore. I keep hoping that they'll get a handle on fixing shit like this before we're all screwed.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:08 AM on June 5, 2007


... because they are forcing Ameicans and American companies to buy all their crap?
posted by chunking express at 6:23 AM on June 5, 2007


A localised diet is laudable, though often beyond the reach of people without excess money and/or time. On a side note, eating completely local hasn't always been the greatest. One rationale for medieval pilgrims miraculously recovering from illness is that the requisite travel entailed a change in diet from that available in their home region, which would cure underlying vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

People in this thread turning up their nose at Chinese food production systems should also consider their own backyard. Modern industrial farming practices are creepy as all get out.
posted by zamboni at 7:40 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


The issue is not industrial farming. It's the wide-spread practice of adding inert filler (melamine) (which is apparently not so inert) to artifically boost the nitrogen levels and make protien levels appear higher. They're basically putting their thumb on the scale. At best, it's fraud. At worst, it's wide-scale poisoning.

These issues of eating locally are beside the point at hand.
posted by GuyZero at 8:24 AM on June 5, 2007


Metafilter: At best it's fraud; at worst it's wide-scale poisoning.

Seriously, though, that's a succinct summary, GuyZero.
posted by dreamsign at 9:05 AM on June 5, 2007


It's like, when I finish brushing my teeth (and vomiting out copious amounts of blood and other internal fluids) I'm all feeling like I'm dying and shit and I'll never need to brush my teeth again, but then thirty minutes later all I want to do is brush my teeth again.
posted by The God Complex at 9:24 AM on June 5, 2007


They're basically putting their thumb on the scale. At best, it's fraud. At worst, it's wide-scale poisoning.

Well, I don't want to defend these folks too vigorously because, of course, the bottom line is that they are willing to cut corners or commit fraud to make a quick buck. (See this article on Chinese "fakery" in yesterday's NYT.)

However, in the pet food case, people should keep in mind that the current thinking is that it's the specific combination of melamine and cyanuric acid that causes the toxicity (here's a louis wain cat's link to a WP story on this for those who missed it earlier in the thread). And the thing is, neither of these chemicals is toxic to pets or people on its own. And their interaction and the health problems it causes is known only after-the-fact. So the feed producers definitely had no idea that what they were doing was dangerous in any way.

Whether it would have made a difference if they had, is unknown. Maybe not, given that there's these other examples of Chinese producers doing stuff where they are aware of the dangers.

It's like, when I finish brushing my teeth (and vomiting out copious amounts of blood and other internal fluids) I'm all feeling like I'm dying and shit and I'll never need to brush my teeth again, but then thirty minutes later all I want to do is brush my teeth again.

I'm pretty sure the toothpaste with diethylene glycol is not toxic except to those people who swallow it.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:32 AM on June 5, 2007


So the feed producers definitely had no idea that what they were doing was dangerous in any way.

They were adding a by-product of coal processing to food that was chosen specifically because it looks like protein in simple tests.

That, by itself, is incredibly offensive. Not only is it fraud, it's fraud designed to pass certain tests to detect fraud!

The fact that they never meant to kill anyone is just plain ignorance. There's a reason people don't add random fillers to food - interactions are unpredictable.

This sort of behaviour is no different from blocked exit doors in American factories back in the 1920's. It's dangerous, highly risky and serves no purpose other than to enrich a few people slightly at a huge public risk.

I'm pretty sure the toothpaste with diethylene glycol is not toxic except to those people who swallow it.

Huh? So it's OK? Personally, I prefer my toothpaste to be 100% poison-free regardless of the means by which the poison works. Asbestos is only harmful if inhaled, but I don't want that in my toothpaste either.

If you're not defending them, I'm not sure what you're doing. Why do these people need apologists?
posted by GuyZero at 9:48 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why do these people need apologists?

Because, as your comment demonstrates, people are angry and thus prone to exaggeration. These chemicals are not toxic. In this particular case, it's an unusual confluence of events. Some people have the idea that melamine is toxic, and that's not true.

I prefer my toothpaste to be 100% poison-free regardless of the means by which the poison works.

Well, you're in trouble then because fluoride is actually a poison. Don't drink your municipal water, either.

Not only is it fraud, it's fraud designed to pass certain tests to detect fraud!

As far as I know, the protein tests are to measure the amount of protein because everyone concerned cares how much protein there is. Not specifically because producers were being fraudulent.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:06 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


These chemicals are not toxic.

Sawdust isn't toxic but if I buy a bag of flour, I don't want to get 10% sawdust. It's fraud.

Well, you're in trouble then because fluoride is actually a poison.

The flouride is there for a reason. The ethylene glycol? There's no reason to use it except that it's cheap. And toxic if swallowed.

I mean, really, if you saw a tube of toothpaste that listed its ingredients and one of them was ethylene glycol, you'd buy it? Really?

As far as I know, the protein tests are to measure the amount of protein because everyone concerned cares how much protein there is. Not specifically because producers were being fraudulent.

But the reason they use melamine and not sawdust (which is presumably even cheaper) is because the nitrogen content of melamine tests like protein. Melamine was chosen as a filler specifically because it makes wheat gluten look like it's better quality than it really is. It is literally the same as putting your finger on the scale - quality testing shows the presence of something that isn't there.

Anyway, what's wrong in exaggerating this? I don't believe I'm exaggerating, but if I am, so what? What about this practice of adding fillers is useful to the world in any way? Tell me one way in which the world is a better place because of adding melamine to wheat gluten, even if no one (animal or human) had ever died from it.

The absolute best thing you can say is that it's fraud.
posted by GuyZero at 10:26 AM on June 5, 2007


GuyZero writes "Anyway, what's wrong in exaggerating this? I don't believe I'm exaggerating, but if I am, so what?"

Uh...because exaggeration is always bad when you're talking about accurate analysis? I don't think you're exaggerating either. I think your comments are all pretty much spot on. Except for this one. "What's wrong with exaggeration"? Exaggeration is misrepresentation of the truth. It's like saying "What's wrong with lying?" It's like saying, as it were, "what's wrong with adding melamine to exaggerate the amount of protein in this product?". Exaggeration is fine when telling amusing anecdotes or talking about how much you hate a band. When you exaggerate about a topic of importance, though, you're distorting the truth, and that's a lousy thing.
posted by Bugbread at 11:05 AM on June 5, 2007


These issues of eating locally are beside the point at hand.

I have to disagree with this. Local producers eliminate middlemen, which eliminates all those buck-passing ignorant fools that are just there to move the product, and therefore claim no responsibility for it's manufacture, labeling, &c. It's far easier to have an actual relationship with a local producer, and they have to be responsive to the community they serve in order to stay in business. There's no reason why an asshole local producer couldn't pull this same stunt, but there is no line of middlemen for them to hide behind which makes regulation much easier and more effective. Plus, it's much easier for most people to not really care about feeding antifreeze to people on the other side of the world than it is to poison their neighbors.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:20 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


bugbread, while you are right in general, I think there are some semi-exceptions. In situations where the acceptable limit is zero, it doesn't matter whether you argue that the impact is 5 out of 10 or 12 out of 10. The acceptable limit is still zero.

What's the acceptable number of child soldiers in Burundi?
What's the acceptable number of college date rapes?
What's the acceptable amount of melamine in wheat gluten?

Am I being hysterical, histrionic and hyperbolic? Quite possibly. But the answer to all the questions is zero.
I'm very grateful that there is no limit on rhetorical questions on MeFi, otherwise I'd only get to comment once a month.
posted by GuyZero at 11:22 AM on June 5, 2007


GuyZero writes "Am I being hysterical, histrionic and hyperbolic?"

I guess the problem is that I see all of those as being, intrinsically, bad things. Understandable, perhaps, but bad. So it just seems really weird that you're basically saying "this situation is bad, hence it's ok for me to be bad as well".

I think of all the decisions that get made due to hysteria, histrionics, and hyperbole, and all I come up with is bad decisions. Bad decisions made because of things where the acceptable limit is zero: paranoia about pedophiles causing pediatricians to get attacked. Hysteria about terrorism prompting draconian laws. Hyperbole about the effect of drugs in schools getting kids expelled for having aspirin. That kind of thing.
posted by Bugbread at 12:08 PM on June 5, 2007


An even better reason for shopping local is that it stimulates the local economy, which is good for you.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:06 PM on June 5, 2007


I dont know about other cities but here in San Francisco there has been a big push to eat all-local foods.

It shows up in other cities, but to be honest the closer you are to about 35 degrees north the more common (and the more realistic) it is.

Here, where nothing grows between November and June, the local-only push is considered by most to be impractical and somewhat precious.
posted by watsondog at 10:06 AM on June 6, 2007


Is "here" Watson Lake? Your profile currently lacks any sort of geographic indicator, afaict.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:16 PM on June 6, 2007


In other news: Young clerk lets Tiananmen ad slip past censors.

I guess that's what happens when you try to erase history.
posted by homunculus at 10:04 AM on June 7, 2007


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