Los Angeles Times reporter, Don Lee, reported on Sunday, May 20, 2007 that Mission Foods Corp. and Tyson Foods Inc. are attempting to reject all ingredients that come from China. This is a result of fears which have been created about the safety of imported food ingredients after contaminated wheat products from China killed and sickened cats and dogs in the United States.
What Mission and Tyson want may be next to impossible. China has become the world’s leading supplier of many food flavorings, vitamins and preservatives. Some food additives are available in large quantities only from China.
China exported $2.5 billion of food ingredients to the United States and the rest of the world in 2006. It is now the predominant maker of vanilla flavoring, citric acid and varieties of Vitamin B such as thiamine, riboflavin and folic acid; nutrients which are commonly added to processed flour goods such as Mission tortillas and Tyson breaded chicken. China’s food safety record has been poor. In China, chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides are heavily used. Quality controls barely exist and whatever controls are in place are often eliminated through fraud and corruption.
Major U.S. food manufacturers don’t always know where all their ingredients come from.
Many packaged foods contain dozens of items from around the world, acquired through complex networks of traders and brokers before they reach manufacturing plants where companies exercise more quality control. Laszlo Somogyi, a food sciences authority in California, believes tainted food additives pose a relatively low risk to humans because such ingredients are used in tiny amounts in any particular product. Ingredients made in China are likely found in every aisle of American supermarkets. Of the 39 ingredients in a Hostess Twinkie, at least 6; such as Vitamin B compounds, the preservative sorbic acid and red and yellow colorings, are probably made in China, says Steve Ettlinger, author of the book “Twinkie, Deconstructed.”
David Leavitt, Interstate Bakeries’ vice president of snack marketing, David Leavitt, said he wasn’t aware of any Twinkie ingredients made in China. In a brief e-mail statement, he did say that the company was checking with some of its smaller vendors to determine if they obtain any products from China.
According to He Jiguo, director of the food nutrition and safety department at China Agricultural University in Beijing, “The problem is that many small companies don’t register their products as food additives, thus avoiding supervision,” Instead these companies small classify their goods as” nonfood” items because many of the food additives also have industrial applications. For example, citrus acid is also used to clean boilers and etch concrete floors.
Jiguo says Chinese government officials need to boost enforcement and penalties.
“There is no clear food-classification system, no distinct definition for the range that the food includes, no related regulation about residues that additives leave on foods,” said a recent food-industry report. “All these bring loopholes for additives manufacturing and usage, give illegal traders opportunities and affects customers’ trust toward food additive safety..