Americans Face Risks
from Foreign Food
to free trade and an open borders ideology that promotes
commercial interests ahead of people's health, tainted food
from unscrupulous Chinese businessmen killed pet cats and
dogs all across America in the last two months. And an increasing
flood of imports from Third World countries is sending other
kinds of food intended for humans through the very same
food safety net that failed to protect America's pets.
An analysis of federal trade and food import practices reveals
that U.S. businessmen in a constant search for cheaper labor
and cheaper ingredients are turning to countries with spotty
records in sanitation and food safety. At the same time,
the U.S. doesn't bother to supply entry ports with enough
inspectors to make sure that imported food is safe for Americans
Associated Press reported in April that over the past five
years, U.S. food makers more than doubled their business
with low-cost and often unsanitary countries such as Mexico,
China, and India. Those are the same countries whose shipments
to the U.S. most often fail the tiny number of inspections
made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In the case of the contaminated pet food, investigators
discovered albeit too late to save the health of
thousands of American pets that producers of animal
feed throughout China secretly mix their product with a
chemical called melamine, a cheap additive that acts like
protein in chemical tests, even though it provides no nutritional
"Many companies buy melamine scrap to make animal feed,
such as fish feed," said Ji Denghui, general manager
of the Fujian Sanming Dinghui Chemicial Company, which sells
melamine. He told the New York Times that he doesn't
think China has a law against it.
"Probably not. No law or regulation says, 'don't do
it,' so everyone does it. The laws in China are like that,
aren' they?" he said.
Melamine is made from coal and is used to make plastic and
fertilizer. American law forbids its use in any food product.
In China, the product is mixed with wheat gluten, which
is used for many kinds of food. The FDA banned imports of
wheat gluten from China after reports that more than 14,000
cats and dogs were sickened and some killed by packaged
food from American pet food makers who bought the poisoned
Some of the contaminated Chinese wheat gluten was used in
feed sent to hog farms in eight states.
China, like many other Third World countries, has a terrible
record of food safety. Scandals have erupted involving baby
milk formulas, soy sauce made from human hair, and fish
soaked in calligraphy ink to improve the color.
In 2001, the U.S. imported about $4.4 billion worth of foreign
ingredients processed from plants or animals. By last year,
the total jumped to $7.6 billion, a 73 percent increase,
according to AP. Other food and drink imports rose from
$38.3 billion to $63 billion, up 65 percent.
But U.S. political elites, not wanting to disrupt or impede
the free flow of goods across borders, provided only enough
inspectors to check about 1 percent of the 8.9 million shipments
of food in fiscal year 2006.
One inspector said he never even examined food ingredients.
"I don't ever remember working on ingredients,"
said former FDA official Carl R. Nielson. He told AP that
his job was to make sure field inspectors checked the right
imports. But not ingredients. "That was the lowest
priority, a low priority."
Food ingredients are listed on food packages and include
a multitude of chemicals that most Americans would be unable
to recognize, much less identify their country of origin.
In most cases, companies that import the products don't
have to prove they are safe.
"Unless there's a known problem, it's going to fly
through [the border]," Nielson told AP.
In the past year, the few inspections carried out by FDA
officials did result in some foreign products not being
allowed into the country, including 650 food or drink shipments
The country with the most refused products was India. In
2006 the U.S. imported $118 million worth of food products
But at least 98.7 percent of all food imports enter easily
"FDA doesn't have enough resources or control over
this situation presently," said Mike Doyle, director
of the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety.
In an effor to reassure the public, the FDA says it conducts
"risk based" inspections, which means that the
agency focuses inspections on specific types of foods it
believes are most likely to cause health problems.
But critics are skeptical.
"Whenever they say 'risk-based' approach, it often
means they don't have enough staff to actually do the job.
They're doing triage. They're trying to hit what is most
important to inspect, but they are missing a lot,"
said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the
Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Some fear that America's increasing reliance on foreign
food products poses a serious risk of terrorism.
"You don't have to be a Ph. D. to figure out that ...
if someone were to put some type of a toxic chemical into
a product that's trusted, that could do a lot of damage
before it is detected," warned Doyle.