How Safe is the Food We Eat
Food safety in the United States is often an overlooked area of concern. Americans generally do not spend much time thinking about deadly toxins that could be in their food. But with Americans eating more and more imported food from poorly inspected and unknown places, the possibility of tainted food continues to rise.
Americans now get 15 to 20 percent of all of the food they consume from overseas. This includes two-thirds of our fruits and vegetables, and 80 percent of our shrimp and other seafood. Despite the nearly unavoidable nature of imported food, our government agencies lack the ability to properly inspect imported food for contaminants. We currently inspect only a small fraction of all imported food, and Americans are getting sick as a result.
Unfortunately, Americans are largely going it alone when it comes to food safety. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently only has enough money to inspect 2 percent of the imported food entering the country, but their ability may be decreasing even further. In 2011, the House of Representatives cut $205 million from the FDA’s food safety budget for 2012, taking the total to $750 million – $87 million less than was allotted for the year prior.
These cuts came after the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which should theoretically increase the quality of inspections and regulatory ability of the government. While the act is a step in the right direction, if Congress fails to fund the FDA properly as it appears the House has intended to do, it may be impossible to implement the new standards. We do not currently have enough FDA inspectors to check all the fish that enters this country because there is not enough money to pay for them. A tariff on imported seafood could provide the funds to pay for these crucial, additional needed inspectors. This may make our seafood a little bit more expensive, but the cost is well worth it to avoid the long term complications that could arise from eating contaminated fish.
Food safety is not just a health issue – it is also an economic one. A report from The Produce Safety Product concluded that foodborne illnesses cost the U.S. economy approximately $152 billion annually. With this massive cost hanging over our heads, it seems finding the proper funding to increase our food safety is more important and less costly than ever. Our economy cannot afford to be set back by preventable illnesses.