The poisoning appears to be due to ethylene glycol; the vinegar had been stored in barrels that previously contained antifreeze. According to the AP, investigators haven’t yet been able to say whether the vinegar was put in the barrels out of ignorance, making it a problem of accidental contamination, or deliberately by an unscrupulous producer seeking to cut corners.
It’s the second vinegar scandal in China this month. Two weeks ago, an official of the association that oversees vinegar production in Shanxi province claimed that 95 percent of its highly regarded “aged” vinegar is dosed with industrial acid in order to cut fermentation time and turn out batches faster.
The permeability of the US marketplace to Chinese goods of uncertain origin should have been clear in 2007, when melamine contamination was found not only in milk sold in China but in pet food sold in the US. (Up to 4,000 pets are believed to have died.)
But a report published in June by the FDA makes it clear that imports from China are increasing in the US — and that the FDA is underfunded and under-equipped to deal with it. The unusual “special report,” called Pathway to Global Product Safety and Quality, said imports include:
10-15 percent of all food eaten in US households
60 percent of fruits and vegetables
80 percent of seafood
50 percent of medical devices
80 percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients in medications.