Food Imports Surge; Call for Better Inspection Grows

Ellen Haas Health Guide
  • In recent years, we have seen the growing globalization of the U.S. food supply. This has meant that the amount of imported food on supermarket shelves has grown dramatically. In fact, current data shows that each year the average American eats about 260 pounds of imported food including processed and ready to eat products. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, that is 13% of the American diet.


    Most imported food comes from Canada, Mexico and the European Union. Also, imports from China are increasing greatly. Since 1997, food imports from China have tripled.

    Certain food groups rely on imports to a large degree. For example, ¼ of our fruit is imported, especially in the off season. More than 2/3 of the fish that we eat is also imported.

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    Inspections of imported food have not kept pace with the increases in number. In fact, just 1.3 % of imported fish, vegetables, fruits and other foods are inspected. And though it is rare that we learn about tainted imported food being stopped at the borders, there are growing numbers of recent examples like catfish from China, beans from Belgium and jalapenos from Peru that were tainted. Though there have been calls from consumers, Congress and the food industry for stepped up inspections, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says they don't have the resources to adequately patrol the ports of entry. The U.S. consumer is vulnerable to harm from abroad when foreign food safety rules and regulation are lax.


    Food safety standards in China and other countries are lower than in the United States. This has meant there has been an increase in US rejections of foods entering the country such as pesticide laden produce from the Dominican Republic, listeria containing cheese from France etc. Produce, seafood and spices lead the list of food groups frequently rejected.


    There is a growing consensus in Congress that more resources are needed for the FDA to monitor and protect against tainted food from other countries. Legislation is now being considered that would give authority to the FDA to evaluate and certify other countries food safety programs. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill) and Representative Rosa DiLauro (D-Conn) introduced the Safe Food Act last year that would improve food safety protections for imported food. It is time that Congress act to recognize how global the food supply has become and how improving the food safety protections should be a priority.


    The summer season is a great time to take advantage of the wide supply of locally grown produce. You can be confident when it is grown close to home that the taste is better and there are less chances of risk from contamination as the food has traveled from other countries to the United States. It is a time to really enjoy the locally grown produce in your community. At Ellen's Healthy Table we celebrated these delicious recipes that

    highlight locally grown fruits and veggies.

Published On: July 16, 2008