Food is going to the dogs
A staple of NGO fundraising appeals for years has been to highlight the amount of money Americans spend on pet food compared to the notably smaller amount one is asked to contribute to the cause in question. Americans love their pets. They spend money on their pets as if they were kids. Pet food alone is a $14-billion-a-year industry.27 In fact, it has been said that, for baby-boomers, pets have now become the kids, because people are treating them that way. So we should not be surprised by the stink caused in April by a story of pet food from China that killed furry loved ones in homes across America.
Add a sense of helplessness and fear28 about the supply chain when human food was also thought to be toxic29 when the tainted pet food was linked to chickens from Indiana and hogs from California,30 multiple varieties of farm-raised seafood were detained at the border,31 mix in a touch of greed to the scandal when a pet food company officer sold stock before the recall,32 and the makings for a major story are in place-the kind of a story that most readers can relate to.
The steady drum beat of stories about food containing illegal substances, such as forbidden carcinogenic chemicals and drugs such as antibiotics, continued in relation to an ever-widening array of food products. Stories included substances prohibited by Chinese authorities, and the removal of more than 10,000 tubes of Chinese-made toothpaste from stores in the Dominican Republic. The European Union had the foresight to develop a rapid electronic alert system in response to such risks, specifically from China.33
The global sourcing of ingredients in processed foods and a doubling of food imports to $80 billion, according to the US International Trade Commission, as a result of the lowering of trade barriers some ten years ago, pointed to a further exponential spread of concern, which led to the New York Times calling America's food import rules 'relatively permissible' and its inspection regime 'weak'.34
China's sheer lack of quality control and widespread corruption quickly became the main story. The world's most populous country responded by exhibiting a close variation of the five stages of grief,35 starting with denial.36 Anger was directed internally-by sentencing to death the top drug regulator for taking bribes,37 as well as externally toward the US for blocking suspect imports. Bargaining resulted in the Chinese rejection of water, seafood and fruit imports from other countries such as Australia and the US.38 Depression and, finally, a modicum of acceptance ensued with the announcement of new and stricter food safety standards,39 as well as the closure of 180 food factories.40
Consider the huge trade surplus involved-China had an approximately $150 billion surplus41 with the US and replaced it as the largest exporter in the world in 2006,42 with expectations for an unprecedented $100 billion surplus in the first half of 2007 alone. The sheer volume of products from China that enter the United States, and the rest of the world, promised that what started as a pet food scandal would be a story . . . with legs.