Is “Made in US” safe? Or, is it a trade war?

When I was a kid in the early 60’s, I recall that goods stamped “Made in Japan” meant cheap, and also sub-par in quality and "Made in US" meant the best.  Interesting how that has changed (compare Japanese made cars to those in US for quality and sales).

More recently, in my world, we continue to hear fears of food made “overseas” – food from China or Mexico – that is somehow unsafe, or less safe than food produced in the US. Yes, there have been instances of foreign food products sickening Americans (melamine in dog and cat food from China, Salmonella in cantaloupes from Honduras, Hepatitis A in green onions from Mexico), but in 17 years of being involved in every foodborne illness case, most of the food products that sicken us are home grown and mass-produced. As I have said more that a few times, “US corporations do a marvelous job of poisoning us.”

It seems that other countries are now paying attention to what we sell (or try to) them. Perhaps, like me in the 60’s, they think “Made in the US” means something far different that what the producers and manufacturers would wish.

Look at the recent dust-up over chicken in Russia – “Putin Wants Poultry Supply Secure by ’15:”

Russia may stop importing poultry by 2015, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday, backing a ban imposed on U.S. chicken imports at the beginning of the year. “We haven’t seen any readiness to meet Russian standards on the part of some of our partners, mainly the companies from the United States,” he said, chairing a meeting on poultry production in Snegirevka, in the Leningrad region. “If our foreign suppliers are unable or reluctant to meet our security requirements, we will use other sources,” he said, Interfax reported.

Perhaps Putin is playing to the Russia poultry industry (goodness, we never see US politicians doing the same here.), or, perhaps he read Consumer Reports a few months ago when it found:

… of 382 whole chickens bought from more than 100 stores in 22 states, found that two-thirds harbor disease-causing bacteria—salmonella, campylobacter or both. While one name brand, Perdue, and most air-chilled organic chickens were significantly less contaminated than Foster Farms and Tyson brand chicken, consumers still need to be extremely vigilant in handling and cooking chicken. …

When our tests found 44 percent of the chickens from the best performing major brand of chicken, Perdue, were contaminated with one or both pathogens, and 80 percent of the chickens from the most contaminated brands we tested—Tyson and Foster Farms—had the bacteria, the industry cannot be regarded as providing sufficiently safe and wholesome food. The industry must and can do better, and the USDA must establish the standards and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that outcome.

And, what about Asia? The latest controversy over “Made in the US” can be found in “Taiwan Bans Some U.S. Beef Imports.” Apparently Taiwan politicians:

… reinstate[d] a ban on American ground beef and offal reflected public concern that Taiwanese health officials lack sufficient safeguards to prevent mad cow disease a brain-wasting disease in cattle that in humans can cause a variant form, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

True or not, can you blame them for being a bit worried over US beef after reading, “Safety of Beef Processing Method Is Questioned.” Here are a few choice lines:

… The Beef Products case reveals a schism between the main Department of Agriculture and its division that oversees the school lunch program, a divide that underscores the government’s faltering effort to make hamburger safe. The U.S.D.A. banned the sale of meat found to be contaminated with the O157:H7 strain of E. coli 15 years ago, after a deadly outbreak was traced to Jack in the Box restaurants. Meat tainted with salmonella is also a hazard. But while the school lunch program will not buy meat contaminated with salmonella, the agriculture department does not ban its sale to the general public.

Even so, E. coli outbreaks nationwide have increased in recent years. And this summer, two outbreaks of particularly virulent strains of salmonella in hamburger prompted large recalls of ground beef across several states. …

Beef Products maintains that its ammonia process remains effective. It said it tests samples of each batch it ships to customers and has found E. coli in only 0.06 percent of the samples this year.

The company says its processed beef, a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips, is used in a majority of the hamburger sold nationwide. …

Carl S. Custer, a former U.S.D.A. microbiologist, said he and other scientists were concerned that the department had approved the treated beef for sale without obtaining independent validation of the potential safety risk. Another department microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, called the processed beef "pink slime" in a 2002 e-mail message to colleagues and said, “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”…

Trade war? Perhaps, or not. However, you must admit that the meat industry and our own government is handing the stick to allow foreign politicians to beat the meat industry in the head. Seriously, “salmonella, campylobacter” in large percentages of chicken in our stores, and “pink slime" that someone in our own government “consider[s] the stuff to [not] be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”…

“Made in USA” used to mean something different.  Someone should be paying attention.