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No.103 China-sourced Raw Material - and why we don't use it

Applied Health Journal

Applied Health Journal

Topics of Health and Natural Healing
Issue 103
ISSN: 1525-6359

hiker I was out early this morning climbing one of my favorite local hiking trails, up a mountain, enjoying a beautiful June breeze (which here in the Southwest hovers somewhere around a brisk 90 degrees) when my mind went into a typical trance-like thought process.... I have been told that the mental powers in the brain are increased quite dramatically during intense exercise, due to increased blood flow... or was it released endorphins... or perhaps it had something to do with a higher percentage of oxygen saturating tissues, because of consuming more air... I don’t remember why exactly, but it is true - I do some of my most creative thinking while exercising.

Usually, I am thinking of some problem I am trying to solve. Or, I am thinking about the design of a project I want to build. Or, I am thinking about a new product I want to make. Basically, I just urge my mind into any direction that has nothing to do with reminding myself about the heart that is on the verge of leaping from my chest, while my lungs are heaving copious amounts of wind.

On this particular morning, I found my mind avoiding the obvious burn in my legs in favor of thinking about maybe inviting a few people over for a shish-kabob dinner on the Bar-B-Q...

Let’s see... I could pick up a couple of different types of meat - maybe chicken and pork to cut up - and prerequisite veggies, such as onions and bell pepper... maybe a few other veggies for the vegan-minded crowd to substitute for the meat... I wonder how I can keep tofu on the shish-kabob-thingie?...

So, there I am pondering a clever menu when I begin to recall the recent controversy about the impurities in the food supplies finding their way into our grocery stores. Maybe you have heard of this...

On April 28th, 2007, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FDA issue a press release to announce that pork from hogs that were fed melamine-laced feed has found its way into the human food channels.

Two days later (April 30th), authorities announce contaminated feed had been fed to chickens, as well.

This was following all the news about Menu Foods having to recall all those versions of dog and cat food, after it was discovered the reason Spot and Tiger were acting a bit lethargic (and sometimes quit breathing altogether) was because they had been fed melamine contaminated food.

Oops! - I am thinking - I might be concocting a menu to feed my guests the same toxins that killed people’s beloved pets.

Up until this recent news, the only time I had heard of the word "melamine" was when it was used to describe the type of white plastic shelving I get from Home Depot to put on the walls in my shop. If you are like me, you probably found yourself wondering why something like that would be in food in the first place. Well... I’ll be happy to tell you...

 We're dining Chinese tonight... 

It turns out that the source for this stuff getting into the food supply originated in China. Now, if you are in a business like ours, this news may not come as a surprise to you... but it is certainly disconcerting.

Melamine is used for numerous applications, typically after binding with some other substance. The white melamine shelving that lines my garage and shop is made from a melamine resin - a combination of melamine and formaldehyde - that results in a plastic material. Melamine is also used as a fire retardant, pesticide, fertilizer, and apparently in the opinion of a few Chinese companies, it makes a dandy filler for vegetable-based protein powders to falsify the appearance of increased protein content in certain raw materials.

Melamine can be (and probably has been) used for this purpose in:

  • soy protein, soy gluten,
  • wheat gluten,
  • rice gluten, rice protein, rice protein concentrate,
  • corn gluten, corn gluten meal, corn by-products,
  • amino acids and protein hydrosylates,
  • and mung bean protein.

I could continue to describe why some companies in China find themselves with an abundance of melamine to use for displacing the more expensive raw materials that make up human and animal food, and I could go into the state of over-production and the drop in demand due to a severe drop in profit margins for melamine on world markets, but I will mercifully simply mention that it comes down to dollars and cents (sense?), with complete disregard for safety. If you absolutely have to get rid of stockpiles of melamine, what better way than to slip it into the food supply.

So, as I am continuing to trudge up the trail that seems to have gotten steeper since my last trip up - briefly noticing the hyperventilating mountain goat to my right - I was hit by an epiphany that started my mind thinking about how we put so much effort into protecting our health from the things we can see and control, only to be potentially blind-sided by sources of toxins beyond our control.

As a company, we realized a long time ago that we could not afford to use any raw material imported from China to make our products. This was actually a fairly easy decision to make, because even though a small company like ours needs to be considerate of our costs that go into making a product, we have to be even more considerate of ensuring that every product is the very best quality we can make. We just cannot afford the type of mistakes where we might have to recall a bunch of finished goods.

Our decision was not made out of an "assumption" that all China-sourced material was bad, or toxic, or compromised in some other manner. For us, it was a simple matter of economics: the money we would save purchasing less expensive raw material from China would quickly be used up to test every single batch of raw material to be sure it is exactly what is claimed - and nothing more! This is a very (as in VERY) expensive proposition.

I can absolutely assure you that no company tests every batch of raw material that goes into making their products. And for a company whose policy is to compete on price, it is very compelling to source their raw materials based on the cheapest cost... often times, material from China.

(Trustworthy | High Claims | Cheap) ... Pick any two... 

I have been often asked why there seems to be such extreme differences in shelf pricing for - what appear on the surface - similar products. A well-flushed-out and thorough answer would take a separate newsletter, but this situation with the melamine contamination highlights one very blatant reason some products are more expensive than a competitor’s: some companies (like us) only source reliable, third-party tested, proven raw materials to make their products... and that proven material is always more expensive (sometimes substantially more) than an inferior material.

Perhaps, I have you wondering how good the quality is for the vitamin and supplement products you take, and those you feed your family. Here is one of my quickest suggestions to help you make a more reliable choice when selecting quality products: Don’t buy your supplements from mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart, Safeway, Walgreen’s, and such.

This is, by no means, to suggest that every product at those big-box type stores is of inferior quality, but you sure do increase your odds of getting inferior product when everything at a store like that is about making it cheaper. When "cost" is the primary deciding factor when buying items for your health, the old rule-of-thumb definitely applies: "you get what you pay for".

I often find myself standing in front of store shelves shaking my head in amazement at the “sale” prices I am seeing for some products. I commonly have a darn good idea what a product costs to make, and I have found myself standing in the aisle, holding a bottle, reading the “claimed” quantities of active ingredients, knowing there is no way the product could be produced - allowing for all the margins - and still have the stated quantity of raw material. At least, not without having sourced the raw material from an inferior supply.

There are several product categories I could suggest, where a cautionary measure is appropriate, but one glaring example is with the supplies of Coenzyme Q10 products. Until recently, the only thing we had to worry about when telling people to be careful about buying CoQ10 was that they should carefully read the label to make sure they get the same active level of CoQ10 in each dose, when comparing different manufacturer’s products. It is not that simple now.

Until about a year ago, Coenzyme Q10 came from only one place: Japan. They controlled the manufacturing of CoQ10, and as the demand went up, the limited supply capacity forced the prices to rise (classic supply/demand economic algorithms). As anyone who has bought a decent CoQ10 product in the past several years knows, this stuff is expensive. And in fact, our CoQ10 products have always carried the tightest margins of any of our products because the raw material is just so expensive.

However, a new source has entered the market: China. As soon as China-sourced CoQ10 entered the market, the quality material from Japan dropped in price. Much of the reason is because of "fair" competition – the manufacturers in Japan who had enjoyed a monopoly for so many years suddenly found they had to lower the price due to the competition. They also lowered the price because there was suddenly more supply (again, the supply/demand formula). That means that some of our competitors who had been buying their CoQ10 raw material from the Japanese source suddenly are taking advantage of the cheaper China source. No... I do not know who those companies are... but I can make a fairly educated guess. If the CoQ10 product you are looking at seems like it is substantially cheaper than you are accustomed to paying, I suspect you can make an educated guess, as well.

Unfortunately, it is going to sound like I am picking on poor little China... poor little sleeping giant China. Frankly, I can’t help but wonder if those companies who are now sourcing their CoQ10 raw material from China might one day learn there is something being put into it that really has no business being there. As a company, we prefer not to risk that chance... and I am proud to say that we never have.

How about some anti-freeze in your toothpaste... 

So, while I am on the topic, did you hear about the toothpaste scandal in Panama and the Dominican Republic? I guess there are also some stockpiles of diethylene glycol laying around in China, too.

First, Panama had a bit of a mishap when the government mixed diethylene glycol into cold medicine last year and killed 100 people. Turns out, the substance was mistakenly labeled Glycerin (a harmless syrup). Diethylene Glycol is not so harmless... it is commonly used in anti-freeze. The source for the mis-labeled "glycerin"?... You guessed it... China.

Now, last week, Panamanian officials discovered diethylene glycol in 6,000 tubes of toothpaste that originated in China. In the wake of this discovery, Dominican Republic authorities seize 36,000 tubes of toothpaste contaminated with diethylene glycol, also originating in China.

The reason for the contamination of this highly toxic anti-freeze additive in toothpaste is simply because it is a cheap alternative to glycerin. The FDA has been asking questions of U.S. companies about toothpaste imports, but I have not heard of any similar alerts to U.S. consumers for our toothpaste.

As I huffed and puffed my final steps to the summit of my climb, I found myself making two decisions: I am going to read the packaging of each tube of toothpaste I have in my bathroom to make sure they are made in the U.S., and I think I will forgo the Bar-B-Q in favor of a salad for dinner.

I sure wish I had that much control over my food supply.

Bill Evans

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