The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Imported Food

CountryBoy's picture

Imported Food


It does not seem too long ago that MiniOven was in China and we were all discussing the gluten problem arising from imports from China.  And yet that problem was not an isolated one, as we have learned in the months since then.

For the last two days, there has been a broadcast on cable tv's c-span of a bi-partisan subcommittee investigation into the importation of food.  Among the points of interest to learn is that there is no such thing as enforcement of COOL or country of origin labeling for any imported food product you buy; I did not know that. Many countries in fact label a product as coming from one country when in fact it comes from another.

Since we can not live by bread alone and since we all eat imported food, I thought you may find the following informal notes that I took of the broadcast to be of interest.

The U.S. Food System and the FDA – The production, distribution, and importation of food.

House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee,
Chairman Rep. Bart Stupak, D., Mich.,
Meeting of 7/17/08
David Nelson, Senior Investigator
Viewed on C-span cable tv on Aug. 20 and 21, 2007

Assorted bullets of information gleaned:

o 5K people die of food poisoning in US ea. year.

o China has no ability to enforce food regulation at the lower levels.   Their production system is too diffuse to control or regulate.

o FDA is closing 7 of its 13 labs.

o Carbon dioxide is used in meat and fish to have it appear fresh or red in color

o FDA has oversight of 80% of foodstuffs and Agri. Dept has 20% but the $ allocation for both is in direct opposite proportion.

o FDA is in the process of the proposed  re-organization – actually being hollowed out and has insufficient funding and powers.

o Instance of cyanide problem with grapes from Chile.

o 80% of seafood is imported; over 20% of US seafood comes from China.

o Less than 1% of food is inspected and less than 1% of that is tested.

o The food companies as the fox that inspects the industry.

o Food inspectors in San Fran. need to enter in their computer system-OASIS-one product every 30 sec. to keep up with the volume of imports; and that is w/out taking action on one.

o Where inspections are done, it is the nec. that a company make arrangements with a lab to have inspections done;  those outside labs are never inspected by FDA.

o Importers can ‘game the system’ by: 1)choosing the right lab or by 2) choosing the right port of entry into the country. 

o When a shipment is ‘detained’ it is shipped to the importer and they hold it.

o FDA does Not inspect the independent labs that do outside inspection.

o FDA will not issue Rules for the production of lettuce, etc.; all compliance is voluntary.

o Melamine and toothpaste, which were contaminated, were products for the $1 store chain.

o Getting info from FDA at any level is like pulling teeth, although its chairman testified that it was certainly not their policy to withhold info.

o Only 20% of imports show up on the FDA OASIS system for review; 80% is free of review.

o There will be another melamine outbreak similar to the last one because of the inherent structural deficiencies in our system and the way China and other countries work.

o The situation now is essentially one of mandatory guidelines vs. voluntary practices.

o The FDA has inspectors at ¼ of the 326 ports in the US.

o 7 of 13 FDA labs are about to be closed.

o Seafood importers switched from San Francisco, with a good lab, to Las Vegas that does not have a good one.

o The current FDA system is one based on entry of economic data vs. a Risk Based

o There are no rules re COOL, Country of Origin Labeling for imports.  Any country can say anything and often does, however, the US is required to do so in most of its exports.

o Up until 2 yrs. ago US was a Net exporter of agricultural products, but it switched at that time to a net importer of agricultural products.

o The eyes and ears of the FDA on the ground will suffer with the new Re-Org, where if put into effect everything will be centralized and more subject to policies of Washington.

o China is the 3rd leading importer of food to the US.

o At this point in time there is a gathering for a Perfect Storm re risk to our food chain.  The hollowing out of the FDA in the face of increases in Imports is building that Perfect Storm.

o FDA has 420 inspectors for millions of products.

o FDA in the past 10 yrs. has lost 1000 people.

o 15% of the total food supply in the US is imported.

o NZ and Aus. have the best food control systems.

o The Center for Science in the Public Interest is excellent.

o At this point in time the govt can do a mandatory recall on toys for children but cannot do so for food.

o At this point in time there are 93 FDA  inspectors for the 326 ports of entry to the nation.


Atropine's picture

This is part of what got me involved in making my own bread, crackers and the like.  I was frustrated and upset when the gluten scandal came out, having to call all over the country to see if I needed to throw out the bread that I had made!  This was made worse by knowing that my cat had severe kidney disease--was it from melamine in the cat food?  I do not know.  But the timing was odd.  We had to put her down.


It is more frustrating knowing that our government is not going to change anything, even when there are things that they could do to make our food ACTUALLY safer.  How can our food be the safest in the world when we import from countries that have very little food safety AND when we deliberately allow practices that are KNOWN to contribute to everything from infertility to drug resistant bacteria?  NOT exactly a rounding success.  It is kinda like saying "I got hit by a truck, but at least it was a pretty truck..."


Even without imports, our food safety record is dismal, particularly in meats and poultry, with GMO corn and other ingredients that we use to bake with.  I compiled a list of facts from a very excellent online book written by a doctor of good repute.  It has quotes from USDA inspectors, agribusiness people, etc.  It is because of this that we buy our meat from a local source or hunt, I bake as much as I can, and we grow as much as we can.


If we are concerned about health, we must be aware of what is in our foods, both those from the US and those outside.  We cannot assume that our food safety is the highest in the world.  In fact, one particular instance that was mentioned in the book was regarding eggs and salmonella.  Another country, after a massive outbreak of salmonella, cracked down (no pun intended) on egg production and contamination.  Nowadays they have almost no salmonella-ridden eggs while our country has bowed to pressure NOT to fix this problem. 


Here is a quote that I think sums up quite a bit of our laissez faire attitude about food.  It mentions meat, but insert ANY other food ingredient:  gluten and melamine, candy and antifreeze, pajamas and formaldehyde, corn with pesticide inserted in the genes--it will be the same. 

"“If 19 million pounds of meat distributed to half of this country had been contaminated with a deadly strain of E. coli bacteria by terrorists, we’d go nuts. But when it’s done by a Fortune 100 corporation [Atro's comment "or by a trading partner"], we continue to buy it and feed it to our kids.”


As for bread, I am trying to source our ingredients and cannot wait until I am in an area where I can buy wheat berries without it costing an arm and a leg.  Each step towards "know your own food" is a step towards health.  The wheat gluten is just the beginning.  It is time for people, in my opinion, to start getting back in touch with their food, making more of it from basic ingredients.  I believe that will go a long way to improving health.



Buy locally.  Know your ingredients.  Support your local farmer, rancher.  Grow what you can and knowledgeably source the rest.



Baking bread might be the first start toward a healthier family.

CountryBoy's picture

I agree with everything you said. Obviously. Also please not that when you said 

This was made worse by knowing that my cat had severe kidney disease--was it from melamine in the cat food?

The exact same thing happened to our cats.  But we switched to a vet recommended food called Royal Canin that is expensive but allows the cats to live.

One thing I do not understand is that the public does not seem concerned about the problems of the US food system and I have no idea why? Do you have any ideas?