China’s food safety issues are well-documented, stomach-churning, and — justifiably — the source of intense popular anger at the Communist Party and its food safety regulators (or lack thereof). In just the last few weeks, alone, Chinese consumers have had the misfortune to learn that cooking oil is sometimes made from the “skins and buttocks of chickens and ducks,” according to Xinhua, the state newswire, that much of the beef jerky in Fujian Province is actually chemically treated pork and that Air China, the nation’s signature airline, allegedly served expired food that sickened 30 passengers on an Oct. 6 flight. What unites these and most Chinese food safety scandals is fraud, especially in the sourcing and labeling of food.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the FDA’s sole tangible lead in the hunt for the source of the jerky-related illnesses is fraud-related. According to the agency’s Tuesday notice, its regulators, while inspecting Chinese pet food manufacturers, found that “one firm used falsified receiving documents for glycerin, a jerky ingredient.” No details are given on what, if any, effects the falsification of glycerin (if that’s what happened) may have had, but the notice does report that Chinese authorities informed the FDA that they’d “seized products at the firm and suspended its exports.” Was the FDA able to verify that claim? The statement doesn’t say. Is the FDA in a position to ensure that such falsification doesn’t happen again? The answer to the question is an obvious no, but it’s worth asking, nonetheless.