The Threat of Imported Toxic Food
The CDC estimates that 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 Americans are hospitalized every year from food poisoning, with 3,000 resultant deaths. Clearly, food safety is an important issue in this nation.
According to United States Census data, food imports have nearly doubled in this country from 1995 to 2012. Over 60 percent of imported food comes from developing nations, such as Mexico and China.
The United States imported over 3 billion pounds of meat in 2011 alone, with seafood being the primary item. This is important because improperly produced and consumed meat is the largest cause of food borne illness.
Of the massive amount of imported food coming to America, the FDA only has the resources to inspect less than 2 percent. This is a major problem because many nations have less food safety regulations than the United States.
Jean Halloran of Consumer Reports said, “If they are only checking 1 percent of the [food] and finding lots of problems, then… there are a lot of problems that are never caught.” According to Consumer Reports, the FDA and customs officials only have about one minute on average to inspect each food truck that crosses the U.S.-Mexico border.
Of the 3 billion pounds of meat coming in, 85 million pounds of it is catfish from the polluted Mekong River of Vietnam. Every year, 220,000 tons of industrial waste is dumped into the Mekong River, where fishers catch these fish, alongside beer and cement factories. Despite warnings from the Vietnamese Government Health department, the toxic catfish is then shipped here.
Unfortunately, free trade agreements have tied the government’s hands. For example, when Congress passed a ban on chicken products from China due to health concerns, China went to the WTO, who ruled in favor of China. This will add millions of pounds of potentially unsafe meat coming into the U.S.
In the past 15 years, over 300,000 family farms have gone out of business and seafood producers across the country have struggled to compete with cheap, unsafe foreign products. At the end of the day however, it is not just livelihoods at stake, but our very lives themselves.
So how do we combat this problem? First and foremost, we need to properly label country of origin on all food products. Americans need to know where their food is coming from so they can choose to avoid consuming toxic imports.
Next, we need to create safety inspection fees for foreign food and put money collected from it into the FDA to ensure proper inspections are made. This will allow the FDA to full fund our inspection process and update the technology it uses in inspecting imported food.
Last, we need to examine trade agreements that reduce our ability to protect ourselves from unsafe food. Trade agreements which allow international organizations to override our food safety laws are unacceptable.
Last, we should implement more inspections at the state level. In Alabama (one of the few states to do so), over half of imported fish is rejected due to safety concerns. Other states would surely benefit by enacting legislation comparable to Alabama’s rigorous standards.
With these safeguards in place, we will be able to reduce the risks posed by toxic food imports, and reduce the number of American illnesses and deaths caused by toxic food.