Caveat Emptor

In his column today cautioning us against adulterated Chinese foodstuffs David Lazarus hasn’t taken his line of reasoning far enough and draws an unnecessarily Sinophobic conclusion:

On Tuesday, the Chinese government ordered all liquid and powdered milk manufactured before Sept. 14 to be removed from store shelves for testing. At issue is the chemical melamine, which apparently was added to dairy products to make them seem more nutritious.

Four babies have died and more than 54,000 kids in China have been sickened by tainted milk products. Over the last month, melamine has turned up around the globe in candies, chocolate, coffee drinks and other items made with Chinese dairy products. Some ended up on American store shelves.

Although many U.S. consumers may not realize it, China is our third-biggest food supplier, after Canada and Mexico.

He goes on to catalog a list of defective or dangerous Chinese products. This is merely the tip of the iceberg. Practically everything that’s colored, texturized, or vitamin-fortified contains ingredients made in China.

Unfortunately, Mr. Lazarus’s advice to the FDA is worthless. The world has changed and heightened vigilance against the products of a single country is no more sufficient to ensure the safety of the food supply than Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s assurances of China’s commitment to product safety are. The Chinese powdered milk that’s banned from the grocery story shelves may show up in cookies made in Thailand or candy made in Switzerland.

The lesson that we must take to heart is the ancient dictum, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware! A globalized world demands a heightened level of scrutiny of food imports from all countries.

One final note to food or pharmaceutical importers: there is no system of enforceable global civil law. You’ll be stuck with the bill for adulterated food and drugs.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Brett says:

    Considering how integrated the economy is, you’d have to put a list on everything listing the countries of origin for every component piece going back to the raw materials. That’s quite a pain in the ass.