Unsafe Food Hurts Our Economy and Our Health
It goes without saying that every American has to eat, which means no one is safe from the potentially toxic food for sale in our grocery stores and restaurants. We know less and less about where the food we eat comes from. It may be toxic or unfit for human consumption, but it slips through our borders and onto our plates because our government has not provided adequate resources to inspect it all. This needs to change for the good of the health and safety of every American.
Americans now import more food than ever before; close to 20 percent of all the food we eat comes from overseas. Of the shrimp and other seafood Americans consume, 80 to 90 percent is imported from foreign sources, and the percentage of fresh fruits and vegetables that are imported doubled between 1993 and 2007. These increasing numbers have made it difficult for FDA inspectors to ensure the safety of food entering the country. We now inspect less than 2 percent of all food imports. There simply are not enough inspectors to properly inspect imports.
Other countries employ methods of production that are not up to American standards. This leads to contamination with chemicals and drugs that are banned here in the United States. More inspections could help to identify a greater percentage of these contaminated foods, but we need more revenue to support these inspections. For better or worse, higher taxes are not politically feasible at the moment. That means that the choice is between continuing to allow contaminated food to enter our country from places unknown, or placing a tariff on imported foods. Given the choices, a tariff is clearly the best option.
A tariff could make food a little bit more expensive, but it would go a long way towards providing the resources to keep our food supply safe. Additionally, food safety is not just a health issue; it is also an economic one. A report from the Produce Safety Project 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.