Globalization and the Safety of the American Consumer
Tomatoes are just the beginning. As the U.S. imports more of its food from overseas, it is reducing its ability to ensure the safety and quality of these foreign foods. Conflicting government agency oversight, inefficient food inspections, and lax food safety standards in exporting countries has compromised the safety of American food imports.
Our report, “Eating Dangerously: The Failure of the American Food Import Safety System,” documents the government’s ineffectiveness in regulating increasing numbers of food imports. Agricultural imports have increased by 78 percent since 1973 while the number of inspections decreased 78 percent over the same period of time. Foreign food producers are not held to American food safety standards. A complex government bureaucracy, inadequate inspections, and motley safety standards place consumers at risk. Our report concludes that the American food safety system is in desperate need of reform; the government must be held responsible for ensuring the safety of imported foods.
Ensuring Food Safety
Our report calls for several areas where leadership is needed:
- The FDA needs adequate funding and a more efficient food safety inspection system to solve problems related to overlapping agency oversight of food imports, lax food inspections, and inconsistent foreign food safety standards.
- Corporations should be held responsible for the food products they sell, regardless of where they are made.
- When the FDA issues a recall, it should be mandatory, not voluntary.
- With increasing globalization, additional attention to safety and quality control issues is needed before signing the next generation of NAFTA-style trade agreements. Future trade agreements must ensure the food safety that American demand and expect.
High Imports, Low Regulation
These two charts show the government’s increasing failure to protect against potentially harmful food imports. The number of food inspections to guard against potentially tainted products has not kept up with dramatic growth of imports. FDA food inspections have been flat for nearly 20 years while imports have nearly tripled over the same time period (Figure 1). In addition, government inspections per dollar of imports dropped by 73 percent between 1991 and 2006 (Figure 2).