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MASTERSON ONLINE: Imports from China

by Mike Masterson | June 27, 2020 at 2:43 a.m.

There I was, searching for the obligatory mask to help prevent spreading the dubious gift to our world from Communist China. The grocery store and a department store each had different varieties for $12.

What they had in common was a wrapper that said they also came from China. So I pulled my China-made cell phone from my jeans created in China and Googled American-made masks. Then I slipped it into the pocket of my shirt made in China.

Next, I strolled briskly in my Skechers GOwalk sneakers made in China to pick up a round of antibiotics manufactured in China. This was only the beginning.

How much of the apple juice, processed mushrooms and tilapia we import each year do you suppose comes from the nation that also exported the incredibly destructive covid-19 to us and the world? Probably far more than you imagine.

And the financially strapped FDA reportedly is only able to inspect a small percentage of Chinese goods flooding our nation daily.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing estimates the U.S. imports about $5 billion worth of food from China that we consume annually include vegetables, snack foods, spices such as pepper and garlic, juice and tea. In 2019 we imported $89 million in tea and $300 million worth of apple juice.

So if the phenomenal number of dollars China earns from our purchase of their foodstuffs and many other products matters to you, it would be wise to start examining the labels and ask grocers and other merchants which items come from that country before you insert the credit card.

Even at that, it can prove difficult to know all that comes to our merchants from that country.

With most foods, companies are not required to label where ingredients come from, only where it was packaged or processed.

The Alliance website explained it this way: “Do you know where your vitamin C comes from? How about that glass of apple juice? Or that tilapia you ordered at dinner the other night? Chances are, all three came from China.”

Besides clothing, electronics and other manufactured goods, including toys like American Doll and sugary confections, the U.S. has regularly purchased about billions of pounds of agricultural products from China, making us usually the the first or second largest market for those goods.

The China Environmental Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center created an infographic in 2014 highlighting the most popular Chinese agricultural imports, according to Politico Pro.

It shows China has accounted for some 90 percent of the vitamin C Americans consume, 78 percent of the tilapia, 70 percent of the apple juice, half the cod, 43 percent of all processed mushrooms and 23 percent of the garlic.

I haven’t looked, but I’m guessing we have ample ability to raise our own garlic and mushrooms. Last I looked, we had plenty of apples.

“It’s not just trade figures that are troubling about agricultural imports from China—a number of food safety scandals have rocked China in recent years,” the website states.

For instance, there were serious concerns over the safety of imported processed chicken meat from China, even prompting a congressional examination.

In recent years labeling issues and a lack of transparency is possibly why health safety became pretty much lost in the wrangling between China and America, the site says.

The United States Department of Agriculture did permit China to export its processed chicken. But that also spiraled into confusion over exactly where food is made. It’s been a mess that benefits China to an enormous extent.

A CNN report said a frozen dinner might have 20 different ingredients from 20 different countries, according to food analysts.

Pet treats imported from China have been blamed for the deaths of more than 1,000 dogs. In 2007, Michael Doyle, then the director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, told CNN that a pet food recall because of a tainted Chinese ingredient, followed by a seafood ban, had brought renewed attention to “our potential issues with our food safety regarding Chinese imported foods.”

The bottom line, Doyle says: “The Chinese have a long way to go to bring their standards up to ours.” That, valued readers, means you and I need to become far more vigilant in what we purchase from that nation.

In a list of foods imported from China that raised questions about food safety, Ryan Unger, writing for the website Boredom Therapy, includes canned peas, plastic rice, industrial salt, chicken, pork, rice noodles, cod, eggs, lamb and wine as potentially suspect.

“While you might think your imported food is thoroughly vetted, that’s not the case,” Unger wrote. “Not everything is unsafe, but … dangerous foods might be lurking in your kitchen right now.”

To his list of questionable Chinese imports, I’d add American Girl dolls, baseballs, and canned mandarin oranges.

In light of what we continue to learn about foods and products we import and take into our bodies and homes (furniture, electronics, toys, etc.), it’s only wise to pay attention and check labels whenever we buy anything today.

I’ve read that if 200 million American consumers could each refrain from spending just $20 for Chinese imports, the result could equal more than a billion-dollar reduction in export payments.

While I haven’t done the math, I can say with confidence that every dollar I don’t spend on Chinese imports is an American dollar China will not receive.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you met exactly how you’d like them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master’s journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]


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