George Graham

What Are We Eating, Anyway?

You go to your local supermarket and pick up a pound of fish, take it home and cook it for your family. Do you ever wonder where the fish comes from?  Or under what conditions it was produced?

Or you might decide to have pork for supper instead. Do you know where the pig was butchered?

Do you care?

As I understand it, the food wholesalers select provisions by clicking on their computer screens. The overriding criteria are availability and price. Increasingly, the food they buy is produced in some faraway place, like China.

So it was disturbing to read in this morning’s Yahoo News that the Chinese are having an outbreak of food poisoning because farmers are feeding a banned drug called clenbuterol to their pigs. Here’s an excerpt from the report:

Clenbuterol, known in China simply as “lean meat powder,” is a dangerous drug that’s banned in China yet stubbornly continues to pop up in the food supply, laced into animal feed by farmers impatient to get their meat to market and turn a profit.

The drug accelerates fat burning and muscle growth, making it an attractive feed additive, sports performance enhancer and slimming drug, but overdoses can cause illness and, in rare cases, death. Tour de France champion Alberto Contador is among the athletes, who have tested positive for the drug, though he disputes the results, claiming he unknowingly ingested the drug by eating tainted filet mignon.

How much of China’s meat supply is tainted with clenbuterol is not clear. The government won’t say how many cases of contaminated meat or related illness occur every year. But industry watchers say that, in the countryside at least, use of the drug is rampant.

In a country with an appetite-killing roster of food safety issues — from deadly infant formula to honey laced with dangerous antimicrobials and eggs dyed with cancer-causing pigments — the problem of clenbuterol-tainted pork is widely considered to be one of China’s biggest food threats.

Is the threat restricted to China? Or is the tainted pork finding its way into the shop across the street?

The story doesn’t say.

Perhaps I should avoid those pork shops they have on special this week. But then what should I buy?

I’ve seen photos of those Chinese fish farms (yech!). And I’ve read horror stories about the way farm animals are treated, not just in China but all over the world, to maximize producers’ profits.

Sandra does not eat fish and rarely eats meat. She is opposed to slaughtering animals on humanitarian grounds.

But what about the lettuce she loves? Or the tomatoes?

Where were they produced? And under what conditions? In this globalized world, those vegetables on our supermarket shelves probably come from Mexico or some other country with frighteningly lax regulations. And some of their farming practices might turn our stomachs if we knew about them.

In Jamaica they say what doesn’t kill you fattens you. The problem is that with clenbuterol creeping into the global food supply, the stuff we eat could end up killing us.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for