The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, warns a report that should be troubling to every consumer, “does not — nor will it — have the resources to adequately keep pace with the pressures of globalization.”
That isn’t the conclusion of bitter agency critics, nor professional agitators. The line comes directly from the FDA’s own introspective review, “Pathway to Global Product Safety and Quality,” issued last summer.
The FDA knows something that most Americans don’t: Extremely low quantities of imported food are ever inspected. It’s a numbers game in which the equivalent of 277 full-time employees attempt to monitor 24 million foreign food shipments that enter the country each year, up dramatically over the past decade from 6 million annual food imports.
Inspectors have to cope not only with pathogens, banned pesticides, drug residues, insect parts, rodent hairs and potent toxins, but also with the duplicity and cleverness of some import operations. According to a report by the investigative journalists at News21:
“In order to avoid holding up commerce, food shipments often are allowed to proceed directly from a port to the importer. The FDA may decide to physically inspect a shipment only after it has been moved. But once food products are in the hands of the importer, there are more opportunities for fraud. To thwart investigators, importers may re-label a shipment or swap out the original product for something more likely to pass FDA inspection . . .
“Importers also have been known to circumvent orders to destroy or return shipments to their home countries . . . For example, they might place contaminated food on top of a shipment and load the bottom with rocks or debris, hoping that federal inspectors — who must be present during export or destruction — will check only the boxes on top.”