The story behind it:
Food from China: Safe to Eat?
Patti-Ann Finlay, W-FIVE
Last year, more than 368 million kilograms (or 812 million pounds) of food from China, arrived at the port of Vancouver, eventually making its way into Canadian cupboards and fridges and onto our dinner tables. China is now Canada's second source of food imports -- after the U.S.
That has some consumers concerned -- especially in light of safety scares about products from China.
After getting sick from eating seafood from China, Bill Chu was convinced third world standards were showing up in Canada's supermarkets, and was especially worried about malachite green -- a chemical that can cause cancer -- in farmed fish from China.
Chu tells W-FIVE, "within 10 minutes of ingesting it, my whole head seemed to bloat up and became itchy starting from the eyes all the way down to my toes."
Malachite green is used in some countries such as China, to prevent infections in crowded fish ponds. Ottawa has banned the practice and doesn't allow seafood treated that way to be sold in Canada.
Chu took his concerns to Canada's top food police -- the Canadian Food Inspection Agency -- but says he didn't get any real answers. "I think there's something more insidious there. That somehow Canada has not been looking at our food safety in as careful a manner that we as Canadians hoped they would be."
In an interview with W-FIVE, the CFIA tells Alan Fryer that Canada now tests a sample from every shipment of farmed fish from China.
We decided to put those seemingly rigorous standards to the test -- by buying and testing our own fish from a popular Toronto supermarket. The tested fish was found to be contaminated with malachite green.
That didn't come as a surprise to Bob Kingston, the union vice president for CFIA inspectors and a former food inspector.
Kingston tells W-FIVE that there are too few inspectors and the system simply can't keep up with the number of shipments coming in. Kingston says there are a lot of food products from China and elsewhere that go uninspected, adding "they usually have to wait until there's either an outbreak of illness that seems abnormal that gets reported to them..."
Our team requested information about CFIA's inspection of imports from China -- through Access to Information -- only to learn that it would cost approximately $38,000 to receive the information.
But the connection to China isn't always obvious to the average consumer. Much of what's in Canadian kitchens -- such as cereals and apple juice -- sold as "Product of Canada" or "Product of the U.S." is processed in China or contain ingredients from China.
Under Canadian law, the ingredients can come from anywhere in the world and still get a "Product of Canada" label. That's because "Product of Canada" only means that at least 51 per cent of manufacturing costs were incurred in Canada.
A member of W-FIVE's investigative team posed as a consumer and called around to popular cereal companies to get answers about where their ingredients come from. Kellogg's told us the list of ingredients they import from China -- including vitamins, honey, berries and cinnamon. The other cereal companies -- Post, General Mills, and Pepsi-QTG -- told us that kind of information wasn't available to consumers.
Experts, such as James Morehouse, say it's up to western companies to do a better job of informing and protecting their consumers. "It behooves the western companies to not just negotiate price but to understand and specify things properly and then to make sure the process works all the way, from end to end," he tells W-FIVE.
Morehouse just completed a four-year study on food safety in China, concluding that "the food safety in China is inadequate -- for the Chinese population and for export."
Morehouse also tells W-FIVE that "in many cases in China there's not even a wash out let alone anything that would meet sanitation standards" in the trucks that load meat to the west. Morehouse adds it's economics that drive Canadian companies to do business with China.
Even Captain Highliner, Canada's most famous fisherman, has been hooked by the lure of cheap labour.
The well-known Canadian company is fishing in many waters -- including the North Atlantic, close to its Lunenburg, N.S. plant -- it is processing nearly one-third of its fish -- such as cod, haddock, Alaskan Pollack, Pacific Salmon, and Boston Bluefish -- in China.
Highliner Foods says its Chinese processing facilities are modern, have strict quality controls and provide consumers with excellent value.
Health Canada announced on October 24th a new website designed to inform Canadians about recalled food and children's products. The new website, located at www.healthycanadians.gc.ca, promises to post recall information gathered by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.