how many fda and usda inspectors do we have in china?

These are organic pumpkin seeds. I bought them for a recent cross-country flight. I ate the whole thing before reading the small print, which said that they’d been grown in China. As everything’s made in China these days, I know it shouldn’t have really surprised me, but it did. I know that organic standards have been steadily eroding, as every multinational corporation and its army of lobbyists jump on the green bandwagon, but I just couldn’t imagine that there was someone ballsy enough — even in the soulless world of international pumpkin seed marketing — to put the words “China” and “organic” together on the same label.

[According to one article I found, China exported $200 million in “organic” food in 2004 I expect it’s a hell of a lot more now.]

Maybe there are good, clean places in China. It’s a big country. I’ve seen maps. But my guess is that no one tested the ground that these pumpkins were grown in, or the water that was used to grow them. I seem to recall reading somewhere that the U.S. only had two FDA investigators in China, and that they were primarily tasked with looking into the production of pharmaceuticals. The free market, I guess, was supposed to take care of the rest, maybe with the occasional little nudge from the Chinese FDA. Of course, you’ll remember that the head of the Chinese FDA was recently sentenced to death for taking money to look the other way as faulty drugs were manufactured and sold.

As for the effectiveness of free market oversight, I just found this at “Businessweek“:

…Ultimately, it’s up to companies and government officials to ensure that USDA standards are met. The likes of Costco Wholesale, Eden Foods, and Stonyfield send people to China to inspect fields and crops.

Independent certifiers from agencies accredited by the National Organic Program check that rules are followed, though critics say inspections aren’t sufficiently frequent or independent. And food from all foreign markets is spot-tested before it crosses the U.S. border.

Even with these safeguards in place, however, making sure that every carrot, cabbage, and strawberry imported from China meets USDA standards is impossible.

I’m sure a lot of you suspected this already, but the term “organic” has just become another empty marketing slogan, like “tastes great.” It has no meaning whatsoever. At least that’s the insight I’ve come away from this pumpkin seed experience with.

Pollution and contamination, as we all know, are rampant in China. In Sunday’s “New York Times,” Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed included the following mind-blowing statistic:

…somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 Chinese idea prematurely every year from the effects of outdoor air pollution, according to studies by Chinese and international agencies alike… Beijing’s air sometimes has a particulate concentration that is four times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization…

I have questions as to how that number was determined, but I’ve got to imagine it’s true. And, given the fact that the number appears to come from Chinese agencies, I’ve got to think that 400,000 is just a fraction of the real number.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this post… I guess I could end by pointing out that the Chinese, if they wanted to, could kill us all with tainted obesity, anxiety and boner drugs. (I think that should cover close to 90% of Americans.) Or, better yet, I could point out that it’s a risk we’re willing to take, just as long as they keep feeding the American appetite for poorly made, dirt cheep crap. Or maybe I could go on to quote Kristof about the toxic Chinese clouds approaching our west coast. Whatever happens, whatever eventually comes along to wipe us out, we deserve it. We should all, I guess, take some comfort in that… In the meantime, enjoy the pumpkin seeds.

Posted in Agriculture | 25 Comments

the perception of crime in ypsilanti

A few days ago, we met a young woman named Bee here on the site. Bee introduced herself as the prospective owner of a caf

Posted in Ypsilanti | 83 Comments

making michigan college apparel in michigan

I was speaking with Paul Saginaw earlier today. As you probably could have guessed, we were talking about Ypsilanti and Zingerman’s, and the possible marriage of the two, but that’s not what I want to talk with you about tonight. I want to mention a completely unrelated idea that Paul threw out during the course of our conversation. I can’t remember exactly how it came up. I think he just blurted it out, completely absent any context whatsoever. Anyway, he threw out this brilliant little idea, which, if it came to pass, would make all of our “shop local” stuff pale in comparison. And maybe it’s not a great idea. Maybe it’s too complicated. Maybe it’s impossible. But here it is. I’m paraphrasing Paul:

You know how the University of Michigan, and Michigan State, and all the other schools in Michigan sell massive amounts of branded apparel? Well, what if all of that was made in Michigan?

I’ve been searching around and I can’t find the numbers, but I seem to recall having read somewhere recently that the University of Michigan was the number one brand in college logo apparel. I guess it’s not surprising, given the fact that UM has the largest living alumni base of any U.S. institution of higher education. And, I’m sure that Michigan State doesn’t do too badly either. Or, for that matter Wayne State, Northern or Tech… So, it kind of makes me wonder, “What if those jobs were here, in Michigan?” Putting aside for the moment whether or not it’s feasible, I wonder how many jobs would be created.

I’m sure there would be significant obstacles to be overcome, but what if our three major research universities — UM, Michigan State and Wayne State — who have all recently indicated their eagerness to assist in the State’s economic development, made a decision to, over time, work in that direction? In addition to being a great PR move, I’m thinking that it would allow the universities a graceful way to save face in the whole sweatshop debate that has been plaguing them for years. And, with the price of oil going up, it may even make good financial sense.

The problem is, can it be done economically, and do we have the infrastructure to do it?

Up until recently, most U.S. textiles were made in the south — primarily North Carolina, I believe. (Prior to that, if I’m not mistaken, they were, for the most part, made in the New England states.) I wonder what it would take to create the necessary infrastructure here. And, I wonder, given the current contracts our universities are committed to, whether it’s even possible. Still, I think, it’s worth considering. We can debate it all day, but I think that ultimately manufacturing has to return to the U.S. And I think Michigan, given its history, is well positioned to play a major part. This, I think, could be a great first step in that direction… As for what to do next, I’m not sure. Hopefully someone from the press will pick this idea up and run with it. If not, maybe a petition of some kind is in order.

Am I naive to think that this idea might have legs?

Posted in Special Projects | 37 Comments

americans logging fewer miles

I’ve been calling for a gas tax since I started this blog over five years ago. I was of the opinion that we would never move to break our dependence on foreign (global warming producing) oil as long as it was cheap, and I wanted to change that. My thought at the time was that we should tax gas so that it sold for $4 a gallon. The revenues raised by doing this, I suggested, could be put into public transportation subsidies, alternative energy research, and job training programs. It never happened, but gas still hit the $4 a gallon mark. And, aside from the pain being felt by hard-working American families, and the fact that all the profits are going to oil company shareholders instead of the projects I was pushing for, the results have been good. Not only have the sales of SUVs plummeted, but according to information just released by the Department of Transportation Americans are driving substantially less. Here’s a clip from MarketWatch:

Total vehicle miles driven fell in March by 4.3%, or 11 billion miles, to 246.3 billion miles, compared with the year earlier. It was the largest year-over-year decline in miles driven since the government began keeping records in 1942.

Who would have thought that the solution to global warming could be so easy? All we had to do was decrease our oversight of oil and gas companies. Their unchecked greed did the rest… Thank you, Exxon… And thank you, President Bush.

Posted in Environment | 9 Comments

assassination is in the air

Hillary Clinton didn’t come right out and say it, but the implication was clear. She’s not staying in the race because there’s a chance of her beating Barack Obama when it comes to pledged delegates. She’s staying in the race because there’s a chance that Obama, like Robert F. Kennedy, may not live to see the Democratic convention. It’s a disgusting thought, but one that many of us have had. And now it’s out there on the table, part of the great American discourse. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s cathartic. Maybe we, as a culture, need to talk about why it is that we fear another young, inspirational leader will be taken from us. I just wish that the American media was up to the task.

And before you tell me that they are, take a minute and watch this footage of Fox News analysts gleefully laughing at the prospect of Obama being assassinated.

Posted in Other | 8 Comments


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