Americans at Risk From Uninspected Foreign Food

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Americans are generally complacent when it comes to food safety. Many believe they don’t have to worry because we have clean water, ample access to refrigeration, and government agencies that make sure our food isn’t contaminated. While the first two things may be true, government oversight of our food is woefully inadequate.  Unchecked foreign food enters our country every day, and as we become more dependent on foreign sources of food it is becoming nearly impossible to avoid. We need more funding for food inspections, but we don’t have to raise taxes to get it.

We now get more food from overseas than at any time in American history. America is great at producing its own grain, but we rely on foreign sources for things such as seafood, fruits and vegetables. We now import over 80 percent of our shrimp and other seafood. Even in New Orleans, considered a mecca of American seafood, the ingredients for classic dishes are imported. Since the BP oil spill, domestic shrimp, crab and oyster populations have been decimated, and diners who assume they are eating gumbo made with locally caught ingredients are actually eating potentially dangerous imported seafood.

Not all imported food is dangerous, but because our inspection system is so poor, it is impossible to distinguish what is making its way to our dinner table. We inspect less than 2 percent of all food that is brought into this country, and it is virtually certain that contaminated or spoiled food is slipping through our ports unnoticed. This does not have to be the case. We can increase the quality and quantity of our inspections with more funding for the Food and Drug Administration. While more funding is politically difficult to come by, since it would generally lead to higher taxes or a larger deficit, neither of these things is necessary in this case.

We can simply place a tariff on imported food that will both fund more inspections and make domestic production more competitive. “Tariff” has become a dirty word in today’s political landscape, but they have been used successfully at many points in our past. It is time for our politicians to recognize the dire problem that food safety poses in this country. A tariff on imported food would be the kind of responsible action we rarely see from our politicians anymore, but it is one of the things we need most.

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