Pollinators Are Beautiful – and Essential

Declines in the health and population of pollinators pose what could be a significant threat to the integrity of biodiversity, to global food webs, and to human health.

At least 80% of our world's crop species require pollination to set seed. An estimated one out of every three bites of food comes to us through the work of animal pollinators.

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What’s in our Food?

A recent article in InvestorsInsight : What We Now Know by Shannara Johnson focused on food imported from China. If the honeybees in our country continue dying, we may become more dependent on imported food. Warning: Don’t read the excerpts below if you have a weak stomach or don’t know where your food comes from.

Link: InvestorsInsight : What We Now Know

…due to insufficient pollination of certain crops and vegetables, the U.S. might become more dependent on food imports from foreign countries, among them China.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, exports from China to the United States already more than doubled from $1 billion in 2002 to almost $2.3 billion in 2006. Within the last decade, China has become the third-largest exporter of food–by value–to the U.S., shipping nearly five times as much as it did in 1996. The food categories showing the biggest growth are beverages, fish, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables.

To us, that seems reason for concern, given the abysmal track record in food safety of the Chinese. Case in point: the latest scandal involving pet food containing tainted wheat gluten from China.

The culprit was melamine, a chemical made from coal, that reportedly led to severe illness in thousands of American pets. After the melamine incident spurred frantic investigations, the New York Times now claims that the contamination with that substance was actually no accident, but "business as usual" in China.

The Chinese seem to like cutting corners when it comes to food production… which makes us wonder if this practice may, at least partially, be responsible for China’s "everyday low prices" no other country can compete with.

In the same year, there was a public outcry in Japan when it turned out that part of the 653 tons of soy sauce imported from China in 2003 had been made not from soybeans, but from human hair.

"Human hair makes an alternative to soybeans because it contains the amino acids that give the sauce its flavor," stated the Japanese Mainichi Daily News matter-of-factly. "Chinese soy sauce manufacturers say they want to continue making human hair sauce because it’s much cheaper than using soybeans. But outrage caused the Chinese government to ban the process, although many unscrupulous soy makers continue prowling barbershops for their economic alternative."

In 2005, the Shanghai Star reported that "a survey conducted in the Shanghai local food market […] found that cuttlefish were soaked in Chinese calligraphy ink to improve coloring, eels were fed contraceptive pills to make them grow long and slim and big fish were stuffed with small dead fish to make them heavier and bigger."

Well, that was in China and Japan, you may say, how does that concern us? After all, the U.S. does have strict regulations for food imports, doesn’t it?

While it is true that U.S. food regulations are in place, their reinforcement is another matter entirely. The FDA is woefully understaffed, with only about 1,750 food inspectors at ports and domestic food-production plants.

Which doesn’t bode well for foreign imports–and the risk is only getting greater. For example, after reading the following, you might want to scrape chicken and shrimp off your menu.

Currently, the U.S. government is working on a new proposal that would allow chickens raised, slaughtered and cooked in China to be sold in the United States.

In China, livestock are often fed antibiotics banned by other countries to maximize output, states a May 9 article in the Boston Globe, and for economic reasons, many farmers raise both chicken and shrimp.

While U.S. poultry farms are mostly huge, standardized businesses, in China, "there are hundreds of thousands of these little farms," Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, told the Globe. "They have small ponds. And over the ponds […] they’ll have chicken cages. It might be like 20,000 chickens in cages. The chicken feces is what feeds the shrimp."

The result: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that up to 10 percent of shrimp imported from China contains salmonella […]. Even more worrisome are shrimp imported from China that contain antibiotics that no amount of cooking can neutralize."

By the way, unlike seafood, under current U.S. regulations store labels are not required to indicate the country of origin for poultry–so we’ll literally never know where our next meal comes from.