Those of us over 40 years old can remember a time when food poisoning was a very rare occurrence. Today, there is hardly a day that goes by that the news doesn’t report on an outbreak somewhere in our great country. If it seems like there is a tremendous amount more of food poisoning within the last 10 to 15 years, you are not imagining things. America’s food supply has been becoming more and more unsafe to eat.
Why is that?
Food imports have exploded in recent years, totaling $119 billion in 2014, according to the USDA. That’s nearly triple the value of imports from 15 years earlier. This has been fueled by America’s ethanol policy and the drought in California which is in its fifth year.
The problem is that food safety regulations in other countries are many times inferior to those in the United States. And U.S. regulators are challenged to keep up with the massive number of producers and shipments.
Is imported food less safe?
“The way it is manufactured, they don’t have the same laws and regulatory systems that we do in the U.S.,” said Dan Solis, the FDA Director of Import Operations in Los Angeles. His team is tasked with monitoring the food coming in through our borders at the Port of L.A. “Inherently, yeah, imported food manufactured overseas is probably riskier.”
The FDA says about 2% of all imported food products are tested in a lab. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The administration scans information about imports through a program called PREDICT, which will flag high-risk items. Then inspectors will decide whether to conduct physical examinations, make a records request to make sure suppliers are in compliance, or do a lab test.
They also conduct inspections overseas. But the 1,403 facility inspections the FDA completed in 2013 were just over half of what is mandated under the Food Safety Modernization Act [FSMA], according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). It’s also less than 0.5% of the 285,977 foreign food and feed facilities registered with the FDA.
According to the GAO report, additional action is needed to determine just how many foreign inspections need to be done each year. The FDA concurred with the recommendations, “pending the necessary resources.” The agency went on to say, in addition to inspections, FSMA provides the agency “with a multi-faceted toolkit” to better ensure food safety.
The Centers for Disease Control has taken a particular interest in imported food over the past few years. The CDC says there have been more foodborne illness outbreaks associated with imported food as we eat more of it.
Though only about 15% of our food is imported, half of all food poisoning cases are from imported foods and almost half of those foods causing outbreaks — 45% — came from Asia. Even more startling is that the FDA predicts that only a very small amount of food borne illnesses are ever reported so illnesses from imported food could be far higher.
Why the increase in foreign foodborne disease? It is not that domestic food is any less safe. We’re just importing more of of our food and we are also processing our domestic food abroad, in places like China.
You can take product produced in America, and you can ship it around the globe and back, and it’s cheaper to do it there. There’s something inherently wrong with that.
Much of that processing is done in China. No statistics are kept on domestically grown food processed overseas.
As the Federal Government pushes for ever greater ethanol content in our gasoline, croplands that might of grown things like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, cabbage, and strawberries need to compete with the corn that is used to make ethanol. Corn has a leg up on its competition because it is both subsidized and mandated in the form of ethanol to be used in our gasoline. This has caused corn to corner the market on croplands and cause the price of food to rise precipitously. This has caused America to import more and more food from overseas. Combine this with agricultural states promising to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour and and we are making our domestic agricultural products uncompetitive in our own marketplace. Worse yet we are setting the stage for the demise of the American farmer.
Is marijuana or hemp the crop of the future?
Some people believe that the answer lies in producing marijuana and hemp as a cash crop sure to make American farmers rich. These are also the same kids pushing for a $15 minimum wage. To those master economists I ask “how much do you think a joint will cost when minimum wage is $15 per hour?” and “How will you afford the Doritos when the munchies set in?” Doritos, and many munchies will be too expensive to purchase if federal lawmakers like Marcy Kaptur of Ohio have their way and double the ethanol mandate.
A $15 an hour minimum wage means black market marijuana will always be in demand, hemp will not be price competitive, and guess what? You don’t collect taxes on black market products and you incur the expenses of all the ancillary crime that surrounds illegal drug activity.