Digest: The scoop on China’s corner-cutting, Mexico goes GM, chocolate label reasoning


Be afraid. Be very afraid: The New York Times goes to Zhangqiu, a fast-growing industrial city southeast of Beijing, and gets some hair-raising real dirt on China’s practices regarding the chemical that probably killed hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. pets. For years, producers of animal feed all over China have secretly supplemented their feed with melamine, a cheap additive used to make plastics and fertilizer that looks like protein in tests, even though it does not provide any nutritional benefits. Anyone want to bet whether it’s also been used to spike proteins destined for humans? (New York Times)

Dept. of Faustian Bargains: Mexican farmers have signed an agreement with biotechnology giant Monsanto to buy and plant genetically modified (GM) maize. (SciDev.Net) Related: Mexico corn farmers get a break as ethanol-fueled prices continue to rise (Reuters)

Dark chocolate motives: Tom Philpott does a little legwork and figures out why chocolate manufacturers want the FDA to loosen the definition of “chocolate” to allow them to swap cocoa butter for hydrogenated fats. He reports that cocoa-bean prices rose abruptly last year, pushed up by strong global demand, bad weather, and political unrest – “so in addition to a con job on U.S. consumers, they’re hoping to deny cocoa growers the benefit of higher prices.” Gristmill

Don’t ask, don’t tell: The news that hogs were eating recalled pet food has prompted some consumers to wonder, What exactly do hogs, cattle and chicken eat? The answers aren’t for the squeamish … but keep in mind that pigs would probably eat stillborn calves on their own. (Charlotte Observer)

Papaya-ola: In another sign that the lines between academic research have become uncomfortably blurred with industry interests, the University of Hawaii admits its drive to develop new transgenic crops is primarily driven by economics. That’s where the funding is. (The Honolulu Advertiser)

A deadly Ebola-like virus is killing fish of all types in the Great Lakes (Tennessean.com)

Scientists are developing a pill which could boost women’s libido and reduce their appetite (BBC News)


Brazen new world: A new breed of genetically modified crops could provide cheap drugs and vaccines for developing countries. Only one problem: what if they get into the food chain? A report examines ‘pharming,” the new front line in genetically modified plants. (Guardian Unlimited)

Pigs in heaven: Author Barbara Kingsolver discusses her new book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life,” about how her family conducted an experiment in what she calls learning to “eat deliberately” — only seasonal local foods, or food they’ve grown themselves. (Salon and NPR)

Bye-bye, bread basket: U.S. millers have increasingly turned to imported wheat and oats as U.S. supply has fallen, said the chair of the North American Millers’ Association. The culprit? Federal loan rates and subsidies have favored production of corn, soy, and rice. (Brownfield Network)

Sweet relief: Americans pay artificially high prices for sugar, and despite pressure from the massive sugar lobby, Congress should consider a quota buyout. (Los Angeles Times)

Why Whole Foods is promoting local buying (San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

Though routinely weighing schoolchildren may seem like a good way to fight childhood obesity, there’s no evidence that it actually works (Reuters)

How to get the best eggs you’ll ever taste, by keeping your own chickens (Culinate)

4 Responsesto “Digest: The scoop on China’s corner-cutting, Mexico goes GM, chocolate label reasoning”

  1. Two points about the Charlotte Observer article:

    1) For a more comprehensive review of animal feeding practices, I recommend “What Do We Feed to Food Production Animals? A Review of Animal Feed Ingredients and Their Potential Impacts on Human Health” by Amy R. Sapkota, Lisa Y. Lefferts, Shawn McKenzie and Polly Walker at the peer-reviewed and free journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP). Link: http://www.ehponline.org/docs/2007/9760/abstract.html

    Here’s a sample:

    “In 2003, the U.S. rendering industry produced over 8 million metric tons of rendered animal products, including meat and bone meal, poultry by-product meal, blood meal and feather meal (NRA 2005b). Most of these products were incorporated into animal feed. However, data concerning the specific amounts of rendered animal protein that are used in animal feed are difficult to obtain because the information is neither routinely collected at the federal or state level nor reported by the rendering industry. The latest available data, collected by the USDA in 1984, estimated that over 4 million metric tons of rendered animal products were used as animal feed ingredients (USDA 1988). Oftentimes these ingredients are listed on animal feed labels as “animal protein products.” Thus, it is difficult to discern precisely which animal protein products are included in a particular animal feed product (Lefferts et al. 2006).”

    EHP frequently has articles about food (e.g., mercury in tuna), so consider adding their RSS feed to your reader or visiting the site now and then.

    2) This part of the Observer story seems odd: “The main diet for beef cattle is grass and hay.” I thought that there was a certain point in life when cattle stopped eating grass and hay and only ate corn and other delicacies.

  2. Jack says:

    RE: Though routinely weighing schoolchildren may seem like a good way to fight childhood obesity, there’s no evidence that it actually works

    “The main problem with screening to identify individual children with weight problems — as opposed to monitoring overweight and obesity in the general population — is that we are not able to offer interventions of proven effectiveness,”

    Of course not. The “interventions” never say directly to stop feeding your child crap food; processed food containing trans fat and HFCS, and all chain restaurant food. No, it always says cut down on consumption, exercise more and feed your child super bland tasting fruit and vegetables that even the parents refuse to eat. Who-hoo…yeah, that does zip-oh!

  3. A point on the melamine problem and the NYT article that you link to. It’s probably not melamine. Melamine has really low toxicity. It’s probably something that co-locates with melamine (like an impurity of melamine manufacture). Frankly I think this is worse because it goes to show that you can’t test for what you don’t know you’re looking for. We need general standards for food production that have to be followed wherever the food came from, spot inspections to make sure it’s being followed, and rewards for whistle-blowers on major issues.

    See ‘Grading the News’ reports on melamine at angrytoxicologist.com if you’re interested in more.

  4. They're using people!!!! says:

    If industrial protein measurement tests can be fooled by artificial chemcals, what is to stop the already unscrupulous Chinese from grinding up cats/dogs/rats/cadavers as a source of protein?