In the past couple of months, there has been one report after another about food scandals in China. The most recent one was (if that’s possible) the most stomach-turning yet: meat from rats, foxes and minks was found to be packaged as mutton.
904 people have been arrested for “meat-related crimes,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reports:
Pork adulterated with clenbuterol, cooking oil recycled from leftovers in restaurant kitchens, pork from diseased pigs and toxic gelatin for medicine capsule production have all been found by police in recent years, with the latest case involving making fake mutton and beef from rat, fox and mink by adding chemicals.
Small wonder that in Hong Kong, which imports much of its food including vegetables and eggs from China, an organic foods movement has sprung up. The South China Morning Post reports that Hong Kong residents now consume some four tons of organic produce a day. That’s a mere drop in the bucket — 0.23 percent — of the 1,400 tons of produce eaten daily, but certainly a sign that people are willing to go out of their way find food that hasn’t been “treated” with substances one would rather not consume. There are now 400 organic farms in Hong Kong; ten years ago, there were only 20.
The food scandals in China also alert us all to the importance of seeking out vegetables, fruits and other foods that we can trace the origins of and that are grown locally, especially at a time when the U.S. imports about 20 percent of its food and is likely to start importing more.
Even though so much more of our food comes from far away, less and less of it is being inspected to ensure it is safe. The Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law in 2011 with such concerns in mind, but Congress has yet to provide enough funds to the FDA to fully implement the law. The White House’s 2014 budget does call for an increase in the FDA’s funding, but “most money would come from fees that the food industry and Congress oppose,” says the New York Times.
Four years ago, the FDA inspected food plants and safety programs in 32 countries. But last year, it only did so in ten countries. ”Thanks” to the sequester, the FDA will be able to perform even fewer inspections than it does currently, the New York Times underscores. Since 2010, the Agriculture Department’s foreign inspection budget has declined 18 percent. While it says it will be focusing on inspections in countries with a history of food safety problems, it will not be conducting annual inspections of every country that exports products to the U.S.
The sorts of food scandals (such as the discovery in 2008 that milk formula for babies was being “supplemented” with melamine) that seem to have become near-routine in China do not occur in the U.S. But we do hear plenty about outbreaks of food poisoning, including one in April in which at least 73 people in 19 states became sickened with salmonella from Mexican cucumbers.
Will it take a scare about our food supply like those occurring in China to alert Congress about why we really, really need to step up inspections of food that other countries export to the U.S.?
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