The Federal Food and Drug Administration issued a report on imported food. Ten years ago, six million shipments came into the United States. Now, 24 million shipments come in. They go through 300 ports.
Nearly two-thirds of all fruits and vegetables and three-quarters of all seafood eaten in the United States now come from outside the country.
The report goes on: more than 80 percent of the active ingredients for drugs sold in the United States are made overseas – mostly in plants in China and India. Many kinds of antibiotics, steroids, cancer medicines, aspirin, vitamins and popular over-the- counter drugs are not made in the United States.
The F.D.A has not inspected most of the plants making the drugs. They do not have enough inspectors for the ports in the United States. They open a small fraction of all shipments and send only a smaller amount to their laboratories. Less than one pound in a million of seafood is looked at.
There are not enough inspectors. A new law gave the F.D.A new powers and responsibilities, but the House of Representatives blocked funding. The food industry volunteered to pay for more inspections, but the Senate refused to allow that.
The F.D.A. has a plan. It wants regulators around the world to cooperate with each other. It wants to share its information with other countries. It believes cooperation will reduce duplicate inspections.
China will have to take an active role. Many countries have inspecting agencies that are corrupt or nonexistent. The F.D.A. itself is not very efficient.
The director of the agency said, “It is all very nice for people to feel that we have one of the safest food supplies in the world, but we really need to recognize that our food is increasingly coming from this complex supply chain and coming from all parts of the world.”