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.