NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 30, 2007

Food has become a global commodity even in U.S. cities rich with local produce.  But the system for assuring the safety of imported foods is not adequate for the future, says U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

As a result, a new plan is needed to improve the safety of imports, says Leavitt.  Under that plan:

  • Third parties would be used to do mandatory safety certification of riskier products before they are allowed into the country; meaning more American personnel in key foreign ports.
  • Information about certified firms and importers who use only certified firms would be made public, and the use of electronic tracking technologies would also be expanded.
  • Fines against violators would also be increased, including raising the cap on civil penalties from less than $2 million to $10 million, and giving the Food and Drug Administration power to recall food products if companies act too slowly.

Enforcement against foreign companies, however, could be challenging because food products often have so many sources and suppliers it's hard to identify the origin of the ingredients.  Leavitt also noted that despite the recent media coverage, import safety is not a problem confined to China, adding that U.S. consumers purchase $2 trillion worth of products from 825,000 sources through 300 ports.

Source: Kristi Heim, "Global market poses food safety challenge, health chief says," Seattle Times, November 29, 2007.

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