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Massive amounts of food, about $65 billion, are imported into the US annually, and the number is growing each year. The recent discovery of tainted pet food ingredients that sickened or killed some 39,000 American pets, illustrates how important the issue is. And yet, in the face of increasing consumer concern, the government is about to implement rules that will replicate and lock-in the government’s current very limited ability to inspect and regulate foreign food imports.

As noted by Public Citizen in it’s July 2007 report, Trade Deficit in Food Safety: Proposed NAFTA Expansions Replicate Limits on U.S. Food Safety Policy That are Contributing to Unsafe Food Imports, Congress is currently considering new “Free Trade Agreements” (FTAs) with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea which would limit what safety standards the United States can require for imported foods and how much inspection is permitted. Laws that go beyond what is allowed under the FTAs’ limits are subject to challenge as “illegal trade barriers” before foreign trade tribunals.

Contrary to what consumers believe, the vast majority of imported foods that end up on the dinner plates of U.S. consumers is unexamined and untested. Today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), estimates that it will only conduct border inspections on .6 percent of the food that it regulates . . . at the border in 2007. Only 11 percent of beef, pork and chicken . . . , only 1.93 percent of total seafood imports.

Because of this limited inspection, Americans are three times more likely to be exposed to dangerous pesticide residues on imported foods than on domestic foods. FDA inspectors have caught numerous dangerous substances in imports from Peru, including illegal pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables, the parasite cryptosporidium in salad vegetables and basil, unknown and unapproved drugs and capsules (including filthy and unapproved shark cartilage capsules and unapproved cats claw capsules), Listeria in avocadoes, and unsafe color additives in chocolate bon bons and soft drinks. Similarly, they have caught dangerous products from Panama.

At the present time, the four FTA countries (Peru, Panama, Columbia and South Korea) must pursue challenges to U.S. food standards in direct “government-to-government” talks before the World Trade Organization, the new laws would allow over 10,000 food exporters currently registered from the four countries to challenge those standards directly on the ground that they undermine their rights under the new FTA agreements.

At a time when the U.S. food supply is already under scrutiny for safety, does it make sense to weaken our ability to inspect our own food and ensure our own safety?

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