China Fears Its Own Food, Yet We Import It


China, like all countries, takes great pride in its Olympic athletes. They want their country to be represented by athletes who perform at the highest possible level. That is why, as part of their preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the Chinese Olympic Team is receiving a special supply of food to ensure their food safety. If China cannot even trust the food that they produce under their own food safety standards, it seems ridiculous that the United States is willing to import it.

The General Administration of Sport of China has asked national team members not to eat meat from outside the special supply that will be provided to them. Team members will receive prescreened ingredients for their meals. This is an attempt to avoid possible contamination from banned performance-enhancing substances that may be found in food. Officials are particularly worried about clenbuterol hydrochloride, a  bronchodilator that is commonly found in meat sold in Chinese super markets. Clenbuterol can be used to obtain leaner meat from animals, but it is banned from use on food-producing animals in the United States and the European Union. Because of the substance’s performance enhancing nature, it is banned from competition and athletes are commonly tested for it.

Despite the fact that the Chinese aren’t comfortable with the safety of their own food, we are more than happy to import it. In theory we have inspections to catch tainted food, but we inspect less than 2 percent of food entering this country. Thanks to our membership in the WTO we cannot even restrict where we import from. The U.S. had previously banned poultry imports from China due to safety concerns, but China brought a case to the WTO and won. Thanks to this case, the ban was lifted, and we may very well be eating chicken that the Chinese would not serve to their own athletes due to safety concerns.

There are two major problems with the safety of imported food in this country.  One is that we do not inspect enough of the food entering this country. We need more funding for federal inspectors to ensure that the food we import is safe. The second is that the WTO makes it unnecessarily difficult for us to regulate our food imports. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws were recently ruled against by the WTO, and cases brought by countries such as China and Vietnam have denied us the ability to keep unsafe food out of our country. We have a right to know what it in the food we are eating, and our current food supply system is failing us.

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