Is the U.S. Food Supply Safe?
On today's Your Call (listen from 10:00-11:00 am PST on KALW 91.7 FM or online - you can also listen to archives or sign up for the podcast):
Since last Fall, confidence in food safety has plummeted. E. coli was found in packaged spinach. Salmonella was found in peanut butter in February. More recently, tainted pet food ingredients from China led to one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history. In April, the FDA detained 107 food imports from China, including dried apples preserved with a cancer causing chemical agent. What is happening to our food supply? How safe is it? It’s difficult to tell because the Food and Drug Administration is conducting just half the food safety inspections it did three years ago. Consumer groups say a food safety crisis is on the horizon. So what’s the solution?
Confidence in the US food supply took a big hit this spring after pet food ingredients imported from China turned out to be laced with a plastic called melamine. The tainted food caused 16 deaths and thousands of cats and dog illnesses, causing the FDA to issue the largest pet food recall in U.S. history.
Then came troubling news for human health.
According to a report in the Washington Post, in April alone, the U.S. government detained 107 food imports from China, including dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical, frozen catfish laden with banned antibiotics, scallops and sardines coated with bacteria, and mushrooms containing illegal pesticides.
Last month, the U.S. issued warnings about toothpaste made in China because it contained a toxic chemical used in antifreeze and brake fluid.
These developments have led to hearings in Washington and calls for banning food imports from China.
How safe is our food supply? It’s difficult to tell because between 2003 and 2006, FDA food inspections dropped 47 percent, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.
Are domestically produced foods intrinsically safer than imported ones? And why are we importing so much food in the first place?
William Hubbard has been warning about food safety since the 90s. Dr. Hubbard is former Associate Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. He's testified at some of the hearings in Washington and has urged more inspections and tighter regulation. Dr. Hubbard is also senior advisor to the Coalition for a Stronger FDA - a coalition of business, consumer and public health organizations.
Dr. Roger Clemens is a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, an organization that conducts the world's largest annual convention on food grown, processed, manufactured, distributed, and eaten worldwide. Dr. Clemens holds a PhD in nutrition and biochemistry from UCLA and has been working in the field for more than 30 years.
Caroline Smith-DeWaal is Food Safety Director at the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that advocates for food safety. The organization's Nutrition Action Healthletter has close to a million subscribers and is the largest-circulation health newsletter in North America.