June 22, 2007
Written by C.N.
I previously wrote about how food and household products contaminated by poisonous chemicals coming from China is not just bad for consumers’ health, but also for China’s image and attempts to legitimize its status as respectable economic superpower. To give you a larger perspective of the state of food safety in Asian countries, the Associated Press reports that what’s shocking for us as Americans is frequently commonplace for Asians:
While the discovery of tainted imports from China has shocked Westerners, food safety has long been a problem in much of Asia, where enforcement is lax and food poisoning deaths are not unusual. Hot weather, lack of refrigeration and demand for cheap street food drives vendors and producers to find inexpensive — and often dangerous — ways to preserve their products.
What’s exported, for the most part, is the good stuff. Companies know they must meet certain standards if they want to make money. But in the domestic market, substandard items and adulterated foods abound, including items rejected for export. Formaldehyde, for instance, has long been used to lengthen the shelf life of rice noodles and tofu in some Asian countries, even though it can cause liver, nerve and kidney damage. . . .
Borax, found in everything from detergent to Fiberglas, is also commonly used to preserve fish and meats in Indonesia and elsewhere. Farmers in various countries often spray produce with banned pesticides, such as DDT. . . . Some countries, such as Thailand, are trying to improve domestic food safety. In bustling Bangkok, where pots bubble and woks sizzle at makeshift kitchens pitched on sidewalks, markets are issued test kits that can detect up to 22 contaminants. . . .
Some Vietnamese have been so shaken by news of tainted Chinese foods, they are changing their eating habits. They are avoiding Chinese-made products and paying more — up to $2 a bowl — for pho at an air-conditioned chain restaurant with signs promising no formaldehyde or borax.
The bad news keeps piling up — the latest recall of dangerous Chinese products is the very popular “Thomas the Tank Engine” toys that have been found to have contain leaded paint.
Seriously, the quality of food and household products made in Asian countries needs to significantly improve immediately, both for import to countries like the U.S., but just as importantly, for the health and well-being of their own citizens at home. That’s probably easier said than done, especially since when the overall standard of living in many Asian countries continues to languish compared to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, who are already industrialized.
Nonetheless, if countries such as China, India, and Viet Nam want to see any improvement in their overall standard of living — let alone receive respect as an emerging international economic power — basic issues such as the health of their own citizens should not be in question.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Food Safety in Asia" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/06/food-safety-in-asia/> ().
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