Only two words are necessary to say all that needs to be said about the rapidly expanding scandal over the dangerous food, toiletries, and manufactured goods arriving on our shores and shelves from The Peoples Republic of China: Silent Spring. That, of course, is the title of Rachel Carson’s 1962 classic book that launched the environmental movement by exposing the deleterious consequences of the over-use of the pesticide dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT).
It was not the government that blew the whistle on the extent to which we were poisoning our own backyards. Had we left it to the government to discover, and then to remedy, the dangers of environmental poisons and pollution, we would all still be slowly simmering to death in a far larger variety and number of toxic stews than we currently face. The whistle was blown by a scientist-author who belonged to the enormous and vibrant civil society that the nation’s constitutional framework has allowed to prosper.
Much of the environmental movement’s success in fighting pollution must be credited to the First Amendment, which encouraged and allowed Carson to spread her message. And while Ralph Nader ruffled a few feathers on both sides of the political divide in recent Presidential elections, the publication of his epochal Unsafe At Any Speed triggered the start of the enormously successful effort to mandate and produce safer cars. While many of our nation’s problems emanate from the private sector, so do most of the solutions. If we left it to the government to focus initial attention on these problems, we’d see cover-ups that would make the recently-released CIA “family jewels” secrets look like minor blips on the nation’s radar.
Given all this, it should have come as no surprise that we began to learn in a series of page-one news stories that pet food, then toothpaste , and most recently, children’s toys, manufactured in China for export to the United States contained potentially deadly chemicals. Another shocker was the discovery that automobile tires exported to the United States posed the danger of tread-separations likely to lead to deadly automobile accidents
And then came the clincher: that while “99% of the food exported to the United States [from China] was up to safety standards over the past two years,” a staggering 20% of the fruit and vegetable juice surveyed were substandard, and other canned and preserved fruit and dried fish were contaminated with bacteria. Of course, it would be foolhardy to take much comfort from the 99% figure, or even to believe the 20% figure as a maximum, since the survey was conducted by the PRC’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, reported by a Chinese governmental official to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Given China’s record on press freedom and regulatory control over its industries, somehow I’d feel more comfortable taking the word of, say, the Natural Resources Defense Council or Consumers Union as reported to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.