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The Latest Food & Product Recalls (Fool you twice, shame on you)

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The latest food recall, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), involves “140,000 pounds of fully cooked assorted meat products because they contain an undeclared allergen, wheat starch.” My gripe today isn’t so much with the “undeclared” ingredient, even as this could pose a serious health risk for someone with wheat allergies. I”ve pretty much come to accept that most of the food we eat comes with “undeclared” ingredients, with China winning the prize for frequency and the level of danger.

No, my gripe today is with the utter absence of mention in the official recall notice of the country of origin on these meat products:

  • 14-ounce packages of “GIO LUA TAY HO PORK MEAT LOAF WRAPPED IN BANANA LEAVES FULLY COOKED.”
  • 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL FULLY COOKED.”
  • 14-ounce packages of “DOI GIO HEO TAY HO CURED PORK HOCK SAUSAGE WITH ONION WRAPPED IN PORK SKIN FULLY COOKED.”
  • 15-ounce packages of “CHA CHIIEN TAY HO FRIED PORK PATTIE FRIED IN VEGETABLE OIL FULLY COOKED.”
  • 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN GAN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL WITH BEEF TENDON FULLY COOKED,”

We know this much: this meat was distributed by Westlake Food Corporation, which is variously listed as being “based in” or an “establishment of” Santa Ana, California. But where in the hell were these 140,000 pounds of meat actually processed?

A little digging tells me that Westlake Food Corporation is actually called West Lake Food Corporation. A little more digging tells me that West Lake Food Corporation does not actually process this meat, but is merely an importer/buyer of meats and other meat-like products (including something called “artificial chicken flavor powder”) from Taiwan and China . A little more digging tells me absolutely nothing. My hunch is that, even I held one of these packages of meat in my hands, I’d still not know where it came from, even as I can pretty much bet the bank that the meat was raised and processed in China or Taiwan.

Usually, questions about country of origin can be resolved by contacting a company directly and asking them straight out, as this info is almost never given on their website. In the case of West Lake Foods, however, there is no website. I’ve written the USDA and asked that they begin noting the country-of-origin (who actually made the crap?) with their recall notices. That and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee.

My final gripe on the West Lake recall is that the USDA lists the West Lake meats as being “produced” between April 15 of last year and April 14, 2010. That could very well be true, but I doubt it. Chances are slim to none that the same meat frozen last Wednesday in China has already arrived in port, via a slow boat to USA, and been distributed in the course of 4 days. Would a little better accuracy be too much to ask from the USDA?

UPDATE 4/19/2010 (only 1 hour after writing this post): The USDA responded to my query and informed me that Westlake/West Lake Foods is, indeed, the official processor of these meets at their facility in Santa Ana. (I still beg to differ, as I’ll explain in a moment). This same USDA employee also advised me that the country-of-origin of any company can be found via this page on the USDA website by simply looking up the company’s name or their designated establishment number.  Here, I found that Westlake is officially designated as THE processor of the recalled meats. I have yet to be convinced that West Lake/West Lake Foods (also doing business as Tay Ho Foods),an food importer, actually processes these meats, themselves, except to the extent they may buy tons of already-processed meat from China or Taiwan (such as “Cured Pork Ear and Snout” or “Beef Meat Balls with Beef Tendon,” or “Pork Meat Paste”) then RE-package these products at the Westlake/West Lake/Tay Ho facility in Santa Ana. If that’s the case, it seems there should be a distinction between processing and re-packing products that have already been processed. If it’s not the case, I’d love to be enlightened. Any takers?

With this in mind, I have 3 pieces of advice for the American consumer:

  1. Find out where your food comes from. If you can’t find the information, chances are, it came from China.
  2. If it came from China, don’t buy it and don’t eat it. (I know, this really isn’t possible anymore, but it’s something to aspire to. At the very least, however, you should know where it came from.)
  3. By the same token, you can’t really trust stuff from anywhere, including the USA — especially meat. So it’s a really good idea to avoid all meat (Americans eat too much of it, anyway) and to keep yourself updated on the latest recalls, most of which we never hear about.

Keep in mind that less than 1/2 of one-percent of products entering this country (e.g. food, drugs, cosmetics, toys, dishes, furniture, electronics, appliances, fabrics, etc.) are inspected or tested before being passed onto the consumer. An equally miniscule number of products ever undergo testing by the USDA, FDA or CPSC. And — no matter what the country-of-origin — shoddy, dangerous or toxic products are not usually discovered until after the fact, once they’ve already been sold to and used by consumers. Here are two ordinary recalls from March/April of this year — a mere fraction of the contaminated items that may be on our store shelves at any given time:

  • Salmonella in upwards of 20 million pounds of Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein made since September 2009, courtesy of Basic Food Flavors Inc in Las Vegas, Nevada. Although this recall took place in March, it’s not old news just yet, and won’t be for a while. If you’re a consumer of even an ounce of food that you didn’t grow yourself,  you’ll want to take a closer look at this recall, which encompassed a slew of products. And don’t think you’re safe if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or organics-only consumer. This recall affects a complex chain of distributors, which will likely never be fully known. Here is but a tiny sampling of the known brands/retailers: Trader Joes, Kroger, Publix, McCormick, Durkee, French’s, Pringles, Safeway, Weber, T. Marzetti, National Pretzel Company. Have you bought any of these (or anything that contained any of these) in the past 6 months?
    • Bouillon Products
    • Dressing and Dressing Mix Products
    • Flavoring Base and Seasoning Products
    • Frozen Food Products
    • Gravy Mix Products
    • Prepared Salad Products
    • Ready-to-Eat Meal Products
    • Sauce and Marinade Mix Products
    • Snack and Snack Mix Products
    • Soup/Soup Mix and Dip/Dip Mix Products
    • Spread Products
    • Stuffing Products

If so, you’ll want to check out the official roster of brands, products and retailers. Because you might still have some of these products in your cabinets or freezer. That is, if you haven’t already eaten them and wondered, the next day, why your GI tract was all messed up. Perhaps you came down with fever, diarrhea (possibly with blood) nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Or maybe a mysterious heart infection. Or arthritis. Hopefully, this didn’t happen to any elderly people, young children or individuals with compromised immune systems, as it may have killed them.  That Basic Food Flavors, Inc. knew about this salmonella contamination for several months before the actual recall seems criminal, but I’m no lawyer. Here’s another recall:

  • Whole beef heads from North Dakota, which contain a “prohibited” ingredient. It seems that the good folk at North American Bison Co-Op forgot to remove the tonsils. And eating tonsils is as good a way as any to catch mad cow disease. According to the USDA, tonsils are considered a “specified risk material (SRM) and must be removed from cattle of all ages in accordance with FSIS regulations. SRMs are tissues that are known to contain the infective agent in cattle infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), as well as materials that are closely associated with these potentially infective tissues. Therefore, FSIS prohibits SRMs from use as human food to minimize potential human exposure to the BSE agent.” Note the word, ‘minimize.” The fact is, eating any beef from any country is the best way to date for playing Russian roulette with this disease, which will not hit you til years down the road, by which time, you’ll hard-pressed to guess which hamburger, which steak, which soup was the culprit. The only way to truly “minimize” your risk for catching mad cow disease is to not eat any beef at all, period.

But BSE isn’t the only danger lurking in meat. Even if you’re not savvy or particularly concerned about issues such as factory farming and the depletion/destruction of the earth’s resources, species and eco-systems, it’s a good idea, from the standpoint of personal safety, to cut out all meat — whether fish, fowl, pork or beast of burden. Either that, or keep your finger poised over the link to USDA recall bulletins as they arrive, because E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria (not to mention the various other unintentional or “undeclared” ingredients) are regular arrivals to the list. And with such a tiny percentage of contaminated products ever recalled, (and this, usually only once the meat has been distributed throughout the country) you are playing Russian roulette with any meat product you eat. Which is certainly your right, if that’s what you want.

Fool you once….

Here’s a list of recalled Current Recalls & Alerts from the USDA website. Includes all recalls from the past year that are still active.

Here’s the USDA’s list of Archived Recalls (recalls that have been officially completed) which is a kind of creepy list, if you compare the number of pounds that were recalled vs. the number of pounds actually recovered.

And while you’re at it, you may as well check out the April 2010 product recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for the list of products recalled due to various contaminations (e.g. lead) or to manufacuring flaws ranging from faulty manufacturing to insanely dangerous. May as well also check out March and February and January. If you’re the observant sort, you might detect a pattern on these lists, as the same products seem to get recalled over and over again.

Fool you twice, shame on you

On this note, EARTH TO PARENTS: Since manufacturers (particularly those in China) can’t seem to learn from the experiences of the many parents who have suffered the most painful heartbreak imaginable from the injury, poisoning or death of their child from dangerous and inferior products, it’s up to you to be the guardian of your children and avoid buying products that, over and over, have shown to be dangerous. Here are a few tips:

  • Quit buying jewelry from China for your children. Very little of it gets tested, and a ridiculous amont of it is tainted with lead, cadmium, radioactive waste and whatever else is in the waste dumps they melt down to make into cheap jewelry.
  • Don’t buy toys, books and clothes from China. They’re likely to include anything from lead to arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde, phthalates, radioactive waste and a host of other dangerous things.
  • Use your noodle and don’t buy toys for younger children that have small parts (anything smaller than 1-3/4″, aka anything that would fit inside a cardboard toilet-paper tube). These are choking hazards, and there’s no glue, screw or bolt that you can trust with the life of your child.
  • Don’t buy toys, clothes or books with small magnets smaller than the above-mentioned dimensions.
  • Don’t buy cribs with drop down-sides. They’re death traps.
  • Don’t buy any of these new sleeping apparatuses for children that have hit the market, such as playpen-bassinet combos. These are also death traps. Use your noodle. Research cribs, playpens, bassinets and cradles. Buy something safe, and steer away from newly-designed contraptions, which have been inadequately tested for safety, with living children being the lab rats in these experimental designs.
  • Avoid like hell mini-blinds from China and Taiwan, which are nearly always contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, which are dispersed into the air as dust.
  • And, for godsakes, don’t leave mini-blind cords where a child can be hung by them. Cut the damned things off, if that’s what it takes.
  • If you must buy jackets, sweatshirts and hoodies with ties around the neck or waist, cut the cords/strings off before you allow your child to wear them. Do you know that this is an accident waiting to happen? In my own town, within the span of 10 seconds, a 4-year old child went down the slide at his preschool and had his neck snapped, just like that. Dead in 10 seconds, no saving him. Avoid waist cords, too, which can get caught in, say, a school bus door, and become a bizarre accident and a parent’s worst nightmare.

These things and more are accidents waiting to happen. Why wait for a recall? Educate yourself and quit buying things that have been proven over and over and over and over and over again to be dangerous!
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Written by canarypapers

April 19, 2010 at 10:16 am

Making Silk Purses Out of Swine Flu

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 When I was in my twenties, I rented a small house previously occupied by a pig farmer. Fortunately, the only vestige of the former tenant (aside a thick layer of grease about the kitchen) was a subscription to a hog farming magazine, which dutifully arrived every month. I read the things with a mix of engrossment and horror, learning all sorts of curious facts about pig farming. For instance, I never knew before then that — despite the best efforts of pig farmers — a certain percentage of pigs are sent to slaughter with hypodermic needles still imbedded in their flesh, accidentally broken off during the various vaccinations and treatments to which pigs are subjected during their incarceration. From this group, a certain percentage of this needled meat (having slipped under the radar of the metal detectors used in packing plants for this very purpose) arrives at the grocery store, where the meat is then attractively packaged for sale — needle fragments intact. In this same vein, needle sticks were (and still are) one of the most common on-the-job accidents among workers at hog farms, where the same hypodermic needle is repeatedly used on animal after animal. These accidents not only put workers at risk for accidental injection of medications, but also to infection by an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria. I never quite saw pork in the same light after reading those magazines. All of this is to say that I’m no newbie to the annals of pig farming.   

DEU VOGELGRIPPE TAMIFLUSo I was unsurprised to learn this week that the World Health Organization — bowing to concerns by pig farmers who are suffering lagging sales due to public fears over eating pig meat — decided on a name change for our most recent pandemic threat:     

Rather than calling this swine flu … we’re going to stick with the technical, scientific name, ‘H1N1 Influenza A,'” said WHO spokesman Dick Thompson.     

Good idea. Simply rename the thing and hope the euphemism will stick. This way, people can feel warm and fuzzy again about eating pigs. This way — even as this latest strain of swine flu threatens to be that much-touted pandemic the officials keep warning will eventually decimate the better part of the human population on this planet — at least the profits of factory farming industries (such as Smithfield, implicated in the Mexico outbreak), won’t suffer too much.

Pssst…. I have an even better idea. Why not just call the virus SIV, as the pig farming industry has been doing for years? Or would calling it something close to HIV just open a whole new can of worms?

What the WHO hopes will get lost in the translation between swine flu and H1N1 Influenza A is the fact that this virus is, indeed, 2-parts pig. It’s such an efficient cocktail of animal DNA, really, that one can’t help but wonder why nature didn’t think of this recipe eons ago: 1-part domestic pig, 1-part Eurasian pig, 1-part chicken and 1-part human DNA. Fact is, no matter how much the WHO shakes, stirs and spins this cocktail, they can’t pretty up the truth that swine flu — just like its sister virus, avian flu — is inextricably linked to factory farming

Or can they? Oddly, the topic of factory farming is almost entirely absent from the evening news and the 24-7 round-robin pageantry of media coverage on this virus, and is utterly nil in the CDC’s dialogue, as they serve their role of public relations liason between the U.S. government and its citizens on matters of public health. They do assure us, tho, how very ordinary this business is of viruses jumping from one species to another. Still, no mention of factory farms (also called CAFOs, or ‘confined animal feeding operations’).  No mention of the curious fact that yet another brand spanking new virus strain has emerged on the scene already immune to two anti-viral medications, amantadine and rimantadine. No questions about how this may have occurred.

The pig farms of my childhood — back in the day when my elementary school class was reading Charlotte’s Web — averaged 53 pigs per farm, with the pigs running freely in open pens, living more or less normal pig lives until the day of slaughter. Today, the average number is 1,000 pigs per farm, described by one writer as “a transition from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, containing tens of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates.”

This can be said of any factory farm operation, whether the commodity is chickens, turkey, fish, cows or pigs.  Animals are warehoused in huge sheds, stacked like cordwood in cages so small that many are forced to spend their entire lives standing up, while others are crammed together in one cage, packed so tightly that they are forced to stand one on top of the other — the result of either method being a population of filthy, stressed animals plagued with disease and deformity, ever-teetering on the brink of death. To this end, farmers utilize a vast aresenal of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, vaccines and drugs, with factory farmed animals consuming 70% of the antibiotics in this country. This enables farmers to house animals in the most crowded, inhumane, feces-ridden, disease-inducing conditions imaginable, while keeping mortality at bay. While costly, these remedies translate to higher profits than the humane animal husbandry practices of yore.  

  laying-hens2

Aside from the stomach-wrenching inhumanity that causes most people, upon viewing the reality of these farms, to either become vegetarians or plunge their heads into the sand, there are myriad problems arising from these farms that cannot be wished away, no matter hard we try to ignore them. Choose your poison: 

  • The drugs, hormones, vaccines and pesticides that have been passed from factory-farmed animals into the human food chain over the past several decades have been directly linked to serious human health issues, ranging from immune disorders, to early puberty, to the emergence of drug-resistant diseases, such as MRSA (also known as the flesh-eating disease), which causes 18,000 deaths in the U.S. every years — more deaths, even, than AIDS. 
  • The demand for the cheapest, most profitable feed for these animal populations has resulted in the practice of feeding animal wastes to animals, with the menu of any chicken, turkey, cow or pig (or household dog and cat, for that matter) likely to include a mix of feces, blood, feathers, fur, brains, bone, etc. from any or all of the above. While this feeding practice has been directly tied to the introduction of certain diseases (such as, say, mad cow disease, which rarely goes by its techical, scientific name ‘bovine spongiform encephalopathy’) into the food chain, the practice has yet to be discontinued in the U.S., which is why meat imports from the U.S., like China, have been banned in many countries. 
  • Massive tons of animal waste — from feces, to urine to blood — are routinely, but illegally dumped into the lands and waterways surrounding these farms, resulting in dead zones that extend for miles — not only decimating native flora, fauna and fish, but sickening and killing human beings, as well. For reasons about to be disclosed, our government turns a blind eye to these crimes.
  • The agriculture lobby industry is as powerful as the banking industry lobbyists on Capitol Hill. So powerful, in fact, that when our lawmakers are considering laws to protect the U.S. consumer, they defer to the judgment and ‘science’ provided by lobbyists, who are the most generous contributors to their personal and campaign coffers. Within this system, the CDC, the USDA and the FDA have followed accordingly, evolving to little more than government-funded public relations firms, their role being to polish the images of these industries and provide damage control, as needed, to allay the public’s fears. 

With regard to swine flu, the topic of factory farming is especially pertinent — not only because this virus arrived on the scene already resistant to two anti-viral medications (amantadine and rimantadine), but because it arrived right as a bill was introduced into Congress that implicates the indiscriminate use of antimicrobials by factory farmers in the emergence of drug-resistant human diseases.

Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and in the House by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) — Congress’ only microbiologist — the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (called H.R. 1549 and S.619, in case you want to weigh in on this issue) intends to phase out the non-therapeutic use of medically important antibiotics on farm animals. Designed to protect human beings, not animals, per se, this bill would nonetheless have the incidental effect of forcing factory farmers to adopt more humane methods of animal husbandry which, by extension, translates to a cut in the profit margin. This promises to be a contentious issue, not only among factory farmers, but among the American public.   

 

burger2

Because, make no mistake, such a bill would force changes upon the American consumer. No more 99-cent fast food sandwiches, layered in a 1-pound medley of sliced pig, cow, turkey and cheese. The cost of the meat in monster burgers would certainly rise, compelling the average American to eat fewer pounds of animal flesh per day.

With so much fodder for conflict, it’s hard to imagine why the mainstream media has sidestepped covering this new bill, seemingly oblivious to its importance in the current dialogue on swine flu. It’s not like they don’t know pig farms exist. I’ve seen several pig farms on the news, all of them peopled with gaggles of happy pigs being doted over by concerned farmers. Here’s one I pulled up off google, designed to allay fears over eating pork, which is a far sight from the reality of these farms: 

Equally absent in the media dialogue are the glaring inconsistencies in the CDC’s public relations blitz around swine flu. For instance:

  • While I understand that fully-cooked meat is essentially sterilized of flu germs, how can the CDC tell us that it”s safe for people to handle raw pork (which is, like any factory-farmed meat, routinely contaminated with bodily secretions from every conceivable part of a pig), considering that, according to the pork industry, swine flu is spread to humans “not just by inhalation of aerosolized virus, but also by eye and nose contact with droplets of respiratory secretions” which is why the industry urges its workers to avoid “hand to face contact,” and to change their clothes and wash-up before going home from work?
  • And what does the CDC mean when it reassures us that “… the current flu cases have been transmitted from person to person, that the swine flu strain is not from the U.S. swine herd and that U.S. pork is safe to eat.” Does that mean that this swine flu strain is from a non-U.S. herd? And does it mean that non-U.S. pork is unsafe to eat? And if this is the case, how’s a consumer to know whether their pork came from the U.S. or China or elsewhere?
  • Does the location of the disease epicenter (Smithfield pig farm in Mexico) have anything to do with the CDC”s advice that it’s safe for Mexicans to travel to the U.S. (e.g. “the cow’s already out of the barn”) while U.S. citizens are advised to exercise caution, traveling to Mexico only by necessity?

Such questions are left to those of us still puzzling over the origin of this latest pandemic threat. One thing is for sure. The answers won’t be found on the evening news, nor in the officious missives of the CDC, USDA, FDA or even in the halls of Congress, well-intentioned as some of its members may be in pushing for the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act — a bill that doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being passed, so long as the agriculture lobbyists are still writing the laws that regulate their industry. 

But I digress. According to statements by WHO yesterday, while scientists don’t know exactly how H1N1 Influenza A jumped from pigs to humans, they insist that it’s being spread from human to human, NOT  from contact with infected pigs. Got that through your head? “There is no evidence of infection in pigs, nor of humans acquiring infection directly from pigs,” insists WHO (even as this utterly contradicts the news — both  old and new — from the pig farming industry). Further, the WHO warns, “Killing pigs will not help to guard against public or animal health risks, ” and is “inappropriate.” 

Agreed.

But changing the way factory farmers do business is appropriate. Because no matter how strongly the WHO, the CDC and the USDA insist — along with the various other government agencies and entities working in coalition with the pork lobbyists — the fact remains that the agricultural industry has long been putting the human population on this planet at risk for a full-blown pandemic capable of wiping out a huge swath of the human race. That, in itself, is scary enough.

But scarier, still, are those governent entities that are so far off the media’s radar screen, that they’re relegated to the minions of conspiracy theorists. Here reside the darker truths about diseases, such as swine flu — which, itself,  has seen over 60 years of research and development into its use as a biowarfare weapon and has even seen successful trial runs in this capacity, such as the 1971 swine flu outbreak in Cuba, as reported in a January 1977 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Necessity being the mother of invention, there is at least a silver lining to this swine flu scare. A silk purse, if you will. Turns out, the pharmaceutical industry — another of Capitol Hill’s more lucrative lobbyists — will turn a handsome profit on the sale of the anti-viral drug, Tamiflu and on any future vaccines, regardless of whether the pandemic pans out. But that’s a a different story, much as it, too, emanates from swine.   

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by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers

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For more reading:

Pew Commission Report on Industrial Farm Animal Production: FINAL REPORT: Putting Food on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in the U.S. (Executive Summary pdf)  (full report pdf)

Pew Charitable Trusts: Human Health & Animal Farming: Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Animals

Rolling Stone: Pork’s Dirty Secret 

Huffington Post: Swine Flu Outbreak – Nature Biting Back at Industrial Animal Production?

PETA article and video: Undercover Investigation Reveals Hormel Supplier’s Abuse of Mother Pigs and Piglets[warning: graphic images]

Biosurveillance: Swine Flu in Mexico: Timeline of Events

Global Research: Flying Pigs, Tamiflu and Factory Farms

Global Research: (2005 article) Who Owns the Rights on Tamiflu: Rumsfeld To Profit From Bird Flu Hoax

tamiflu-stockpiles

The pig industry’s efforts to defend itself in the wake of the swine flu outbreak:  

Swine Flu: Wrong Name

Industry Stresses Pork is Safe

CDC, USDA Emphasize Pork and Hogs are Safe [Considering the careful PR campaign being devoted to pork safety, I find it curous that there is no explanation in this article to what they mean by “safe handling” of pork meat in the context of pork safety during a swine flu epidemic.]