It's hard to find even an American flag anymore that's not "Made In China." With its permanent Normal Trade Relations, China exports billions of dollars worth of goods to the United States every year. Yet, while we frown at the number of American companies that have moved off to China, cheap toys and flags will not kill us in the short term. But, Chinese food imports could.

Despite the cat jokes, the food at your local Chinese buffet is most likely quite delicious and nutritious. Food imported from China itself, however, is causing the FDA constant trouble. Whether they are laced with dangerous pesticides or toxic chemicals, or whether they are just plain dirty, Chinese food imports are stopped more often by Food and Drug Administration inspectors than food from any other country. In April alone, the U.S. turned back 257 food shipments from China. Much of these shipments include fish like catfish, shrimp, mahi-mahi, tilapia, eel and yellowfin tuna, but also include items like dried fruit, bean curd and herbal teas.

The FDA has stopped all shipments of Chinese toothpaste after a deadly chemical was recently found in tubes sold in Australia, the Dominican Republic and Panama.

India and Mexico are also high-incident countries, with around 100 shipment rejections a month. Other countries, however, have only a few problems each month.

Drugs and vitamin supplements are another area of concern. China makes 70 percent of the world's penicillin, 50 percent of its aspirin as well as a large chunk of the vitamins A, B-12, C and E. China produces 90 percent of the U.S. supply of vitamin C. While the Chinese companies are working to improve their reputations, there is still the corruption issue to deal with. The former chief the Chinese FDA was recently given the death sentence for having accepted $832,000 in bribes to let unsafe drugs on the market.

With toxins or dangerous chemicals, or salmonella and other bacteria traveling in from abroad, the U.S. needs to address serious problems that leave American consumers vulnerable to illness and death. The FDA has no way of fully inspecting every shipment that comes in. Of the estimated 9.1 million items imported this year, the FDA will only be able to inspect about 10 percent.

"You've got to take the imports back beyond the ports," said David Acheson, the new FDA assistant commissioner for food protection. "You cannot do this if you are going to simply look at material that's arriving on the docks. It's impossible. The FDA inspects 1 percent of the imports. You can multiply that by a factor of 10 and that's still 90 percent going through that we don't inspect."

The consumers are unable to simply avoid items from overseas, since the U.S. does not require drug and food companies to note on product packaging the countries where the ingredients originated.

While China scrambles to defend its reputation, U.S. companies should simply be wary of ordering food from China. Globalization has opened consumers to a large variety of foods and products at low prices, but it has also opened consumers to importing more than just what is on the package label.

Related Links:
 • Just How Safe Are Imports From China? -
 • Concerns Rise As Chinese Drugs Dominate Market - The Mercury News
 • China Says Food Safety Under Control - The Daily Comet
 • China Goes on Offensive Over 'Tainted Food' - Chicago Sun-Times
 • Chinese Imports Slip Through Cracks in U.S. Food Safety System - Chicago Tribune