Most imported food never inspected

October 3, 2007

US News & World Report/September 8, 2007

More than 98 percent of imported food is never inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the two federal agencies charged with protecting Americans against tainted food, the Progressive Policy Institute said Friday. Imported food now accounts for about 13 percent of the average American’s diet.

Some 76 million Americans get sick each year from eating spoiled, contaminated or tainted food, leading to 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, the Washington, D.C.-based group said in a statement.

While the FDA is responsible for 80 percent of the nation’s food supply, 80 percent of the nation’s annual food-safety budget goes to the Department of Agriculture, the PPI said.

“Currently, Americans are protected against tainted goods by a system of redundant, inefficient programs that let too many dangerous products through the cracks,” the institute added.

The PPI offered the following remedies for what it said was an ailing food-inspection system:

-Grant food inspection authority to a sole agency, which should have stronger authority to recall unsafe food products, and would establish uniform standards for all domestic and imported foods.
-Focus attention on goods from nations with a history of problem imports. According to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the United States rejects twice as many food shipments from China as from all other foreign nations combined. Nonetheless, China exported $4.2 billion in food and agriculture to the United States last year.
-Create a stronger federal recall authority. Currently, only infant formula is subject to any form of mandatory recall authority.
-Use a program designed to prevent the import of terrorist weapons — the Container Security Initiative — to inspect food shipments. The infrastructure created for the program exists in more than 50 ports around the world.

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