As my kids suit up as skeleton orcs and grim reapers tonight and prepare to trick or treat, Iíll be keeping a close eye on the candy that fills their plastic pumpkins. This year, the semi urban myth fears of razor blade apples has been replaced by something more real and tangible: candy made in China or containing ingredients from China that might harbor melamine or other toxins.
The villain isnít some slavering American maniac anymore, itís those motivated by greed Ė or in some cases stupendous ignorance Ė who have polluted the food chain worldwide. What bothers me the most about the Chinese toxins is that candy isnít always clearly labeled. It might say ďdistributed in AmericaĒ but where does it originate? Even candy that says ďmade in AmericaĒ may use ingredients manufactured elsewhere. Everyone knows chocolate is made with milk and butter. And Chinese milk has been found to be tainted. So how do we know that the candy companies arenít buying these ingredients from China? And if the products go through layers of middlemen, how can they be sure anyway?
I have long pulled Mexican candies out of my kidsí Halloween stashes because some of those have been found to contain lead, which can cause mental retardation. This year, Iíll be reading labels as never before. But where does it end? The LA Times recently cited a study showing that artificial colorings can produce symptoms of ADHD. Do I need to pull all the colorful treats too?
In the end, Iíll probably cut them slack on this one. I monitor my kidsí diets the other 364 days of the year and figure the mental trauma of seeing most of their candy thrown out outweighs the health hazard of gobbling some dodgy sweets.
And theyíre actually pretty good sports. Theyíve read Eric Schlosserís Fast Food Nation and they understand the perils. I hope Schlosserís working on a book about the poisoning of the global food chain now. In the meantime, U.S. government needs to pass laws requiring food companies to list the originating country of all their ingredients. Only then can consumers make informed choices.