Is “Made in the U.S.A.” safe?  Or, is this a trade war?

When I was a kid in the early 1960s, I recall that “Made in Japan” meant cheap, but also sub-par in quality.  Interesting how that has changed (compare Japanese made cars to those made in the U.S. for quality and sales).

More recently, in my world we continue to hear people voice a fear of food made “overseas”–in China or Mexico–that is somehow supposed to be unsafe, or less safe than food produced in the U.S.  Yes, there have been instances of foreign food products sickening Americans (melamine in dog and cat food from China, Salmonella in cantaloupes from Honduras, hepatitis A in green onions from Mexico), but in 17 years of being involved in litigation resulting from nearly every foodborne illness outbreak in the U.S., in my experience most of the food products that sicken us are home-grown and mass-produced.  As I have said more that a few times, “U.S. corporations do a marvelous job of poisoning us.”

It seems that other countries are now paying attention to what we sell (or try to sell) them.  Perhaps, like me in the 1960s, they think “Made in the USA” means something far different that what the producers and manufacturers would wish.  

Look at the recent dust-up over chicken in Russia.  Russia may stop importing poultry by 2015, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said recently, backing a ban imposed on U.S. chicken imports at the beginning of the year.   “We haven’t seen any readiness to meet Russian standards on the part of some of our partners, mainly the companies from the United States,” he said.

“If our foreign suppliers are unable or reluctant to meet our security requirements, we will use other sources.”

Perhaps Putin is playing to the Russian poultry industry (goodness, we never see U.S. politicians doing the same here), or, perhaps he read the study released by Consumer Reports that found two-thirds of fresh broiler chicken purchased harbored Salmonella and/or Campylobacter.  The study also found that most of the bacteria sampled from the raw chicken was resistant to at least one antibiotic.

And, what about Asia?  In the latest controversy over “Made in the U.S.A.,” in late December, Taiwan’s ruling and opposition parties reached an agreement to amend the island nation’s Food Sanitation Act to bar the import of bone-in and certain other beef products from the U.S. for fear of Mad Cow disease.

True or not, can you blame them for being a bit worried over U.S. beef after reading about the use of ammonia-treated meat, a substance compared to “pink slime”, in hamburgers served at fast food restaurants and through the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National School Lunch Program?

Carl Custer, a former USDA microbiologist, told the New York Times that he and other scientists were concerned about the potential safety risks associated with the consumption of ammonia-treated beef without independent validation of the meat’s safety.  “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling,” he told the Times.

Trade war? Perhaps.  Or not. However, you must admit that the meat industry and our own government are handing the stick to allow foreign politicians to beat the meat industry in the head.  

Seriously, we have Salmonella and Campylobacter found in a large percentage of chicken in our stores, and a “pink slime” being served to our school children in ground beef–“ground beef” that a former USDA employee did not even consider to be ground beef–“ground beef” that contains “pink slime” but is not labeled as containing ammonia or ammonia-treated beef as an ingredient, which caused the same former government employee to consider omission of ammonia on food labels as “fraudulent.”

“Made in USA” used to mean something different.