Monday, July 02, 2007

Former FDA Associate Commissioner Sounds Alarm on Imported Food

In keeping with the topic of tainted food, here's a June 8th, PBS interview with William Hubbard, a former associate commissioner of the FDA. He served in that position for 14 years, retiring in 2005.

Extended Interview: Former FDA Official Discusses Food Safety

I was shocked at his frankness. Here are a few excerpts:

WILLIAM HUBBARD: Well for example, here's a cereal that has small freeze-dried strawberries in it. They almost always come from China.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The strawberries do?

WH: The strawberries do. And FDA has found some contamination issues with those strawberries. The cereal of course, the final product is made here in the United States, but it uses foreign ingredients.

BB: So they make the cereal here, but the strawberries in the cereal come from China.

WH: That's correct. But the FDA finds tremendous problems from Asian countries in what they call filth.

WH: Well, let's look at, this is apple juice. Now, you think apple juice is as American as apple pie. But in fact, much of our apple juice comes from China. And what FDA has been finding is they would water down the apple juice, add a chemical called inulin.

BB: The Chinese?

WH: Yeah, and inulin would make it taste just like real apple juice and even FDA's own labs were having trouble finding a chemical in there. It was really an economic fraud to water down real apple juice and only use a small amount of real apple juice. And that was a very common problem and goes on today.

BB: Wait a minute. Let's see what this label says.

WH: You won't see anything on it. It just says apple juice.

BB: It says 100 percent juice from concentrate.

WH: Well they lie.

BB: But the label says 100 percent...

WH: It should be. ... But they have developed such nefarious techniques for disguising their watering down of the real apple juice that even the FDA laboratories are having difficulty finding this compound inulin, which mimics the chemical composition of apple juice.

BB: So how do I know when I'm getting a jar of real apple juice at the store?

WH: You don't.

WH: This is an interesting example, Betty Ann. This is applesauce, baby applesauce. And it has ascorbic acid as a vitamin C to help prevent spoilage. It's known as an antioxidant. So you might think, well, if I don't want to buy this. If I'm worried about ascorbic acid being there because most ascorbic acid comes from China, I would buy organic applesauce which is this.

BB: Right.

WH: But if you notice on the label it says it's made from organic apples, but it still contains ascorbic acid. So you're still getting a foreign imported chemical even though this is technically an organic product.

BB: That doesn't seem right. I mean that's almost like lying about what's in the product. How can it be organic if it's got chemicals in it?

WH: Certainly the apples would likely have been organic, but ascorbic acid is an important ingredient to prevent spoilage in these commodities. It's a good thing. It's not unsafe. It's just if it's coming from a place where no one is checking it out, then there could be some potential concern.

BB: I hate to ask this question, but I have to because it's part of my job. If bad guys wanted to poison, people always worry about the food, about the food system in America being subject to terrorists. I mean if terrorists really wanted to, how easy would it be for bad guys to make hundreds of thousands of people sick?

WH: Well on his last day in office, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, said he worried about the food supply from imported food because he thought it was too darned easy to do just that.

BB: What do you think as a former FDA employee?

WH: I'd rather not say.

BB: Do you have concerns about it?

WH: Secretary Thompson was echoing concerns among many knowledgeable food safety officials.

BB: Okay, so you wouldn't disagree with him?

WH: I wouldn't disagree with Secretary Thompson.

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