Imported Foods & the F.D.A.

You might think that the best or most interesting stories about food can be found in the Food sections of media outlets, but I say it’s all in the Business sections.

Take the NY Times Business pages today and yesterday (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/21/business/21recall.html?_r=1&ref=business and http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/21/health/policy/21food.html):

Reports there reveal that when food reaches U.S. shores it goes from airport or dock straight to the consumer.  This is not just about the fancy-schmancy cheeses:

The articles note: “Nearly two-thirds of all fruits and vegetables and three-quarters of all seafood consumed in the United States now come from outside the country.”  In terms of numbers, “A decade ago, the F.D.A. was responsible for policing six million shipments annually coming through 300 ports. This year, the number of shipments is expected to grow to 24 million.”

Well, calculate the odds.  You’ve got 24 million shipments coming in, with about 65% of all fruits and vegetables and 75% of all fish and seafood arriving from all over the planet.  Think that food borne illnesses will spike?

They already have.  The pieces note: “The products included cantaloupes from Honduras contaminated with salmonella, frozen mussel meat from New Zealand infected with listeria and frozen fish from Korea that contained the bacterium that causes botulism.”

OK, say you are one of these backyard or balcony farmers without interest in foreign food.  You raise carp and kill chickens.

The issue isn’t just food.  As noted in the pieces:  “The situation with drugs and medical devices is even more daunting. More than 80 percent of the active ingredients for drugs sold in the United States are made abroad — mostly in plants in China and India that are rarely inspected by the F.D.A. Half of all medical devices sold in the United States are made abroad. Many kinds of antibiotics,steroidscancer medicines and even aspirin are no longer produced in the United States, or in many cases anywhere in the Western world.”

Why is this news coming out now?  Simply this, as noted in the pieces: “The F.D.A. won new powers to police foreign foods in legislation signed by President Obama in January, but with those new powers came new responsibilities. The law directed the agency to inspect at least 600 foreign food facilities within a year, then increase that number every year afterward. But instead of increasing the agency’s budget to perform those inspections, House Republicans voted last week to cut it.”

Daunting, isn’t it?

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