For the last several years, there has been one story after another about tainted or even deadly food or ingredients to human and pet food coming from China. The two latest stories were the jerky treats that caused hundreds of pet deaths and the laundering of honey coming from China by a German importer. However, the majority of Americans are blissfully ignorant of the origin of many of the food products stocked in their neighborhood stores. If they really knew the source of many of the products they buy, they would be horrified. The public outcry would be sufficient to put enough pressure on our elected officials to remedy the situation rapidly.
More than a hundred years ago, there was an exposé of the Chicago meat packing industry in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, followed by many other articles in the Progressive Era publications of the day. There was a huge public outcry. As a result, President Theodore Roosevelt sent labor commissioner Charles P. Neill and social worker James Bronson Reynolds to Chicago to make surprise visits to meat packing facilities. Although the meat packers were tipped off in advance about their visits, they saw enough revolting conditions at the meat packing plants to corroborate the claims of the many articles and submitted a report to the president and Congress.
As a result, the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 (FMIA) was passed by Congress and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt to prevent adulterated or misbranded meat and meat products from being sold as food and to ensure that meat and meat products are slaughtered and processed under sanitary conditions. All labels on any type of food had to be accurate (although not all ingredients were provided on the label). Even though all harmful food was banned, there were still few warnings provided on the container. USDA inspection of poultry was added by the Poultry Products Inspection Act of 1957.
Also in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Pure Food and Drug Act, under which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA or USFDA) was formed as an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (abbreviated as FFDCA, FDCA, or FD&C) was passed by Congress in 1938 to replace the earlier Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and gave authority to the USFDA to oversee the safety of food, drugs, and cosmetics. This Act has been expanded to include food coloring, food additives, bottled water, homeopathic products, and foods produced by genetic engineering and natural sources. Genetically modified food is regarded as containing a “food additive” and is subject to pre-market approval by the FDA if the protein added to the food by the genetic engineering process is not “generally recognized as safe.” On May 28, 1976, the FD&C Act was amended to include regulation for medical devices. The amendment required that all medical devices be classified into one of three classes.
The FDA is now responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety, tobacco products, dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs (medications), vaccines, cosmetics, biopharmaceuticals, blood transfusions, medical devices, electromagnetic radiation emitting devices (ERED), and veterinary products.
Six years ago, there was the biggest pet food recall in history when a Chinese producer contaminated dog and cat food with melamine, a compound used in plastics, causing the deaths of animals across the United States. The public outcry helped lead to the inclusion of animal food in the Food Safety and Modernization Act, a landmark food safety bill passed in 2010 that was the first major overhaul of the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety laws since the 1930s. It gave the USFDA more control over food imports as well as broad new powers to set standards to prevent contamination of produce and processed food.
After the latest scandal regarding jerky treats for pets imported from China, the Food and Drug Administration published a proposed regulation on October 29th that would govern the production of pet food and farm animal feed for the first time. This would help prevent food-borne illness in both animals and people.
The problem with passing more regulations for the USFDA to handle is that it is grossly understaffed and underfunded for its complex and growing regulatory mission. The 2012 budget was only $4.36 billion, and the budget request for 2013 was $4.5 billion. About 45%, or $2 billion of the 2012 budget, is generated by user fees. Pharmaceutical firms pay the majority of these fees, which are used to expedite drug reviews.
The USFDA regulates more than 80% of America’s food supply and $1 trillion worth of consumer goods. Much of the expenditures are for goods imported into the United States. While the USFDA is responsible for monitoring a third of all imports, it only inspects less than 1% of food imports at the ports of entry. Many foreign countries such as China don’t have the same or any standards for source inspections that are required for food manufactured in the United States. They don’t have the same regulations against harmful pesticides and environmental pollution. Thus, importers are bypassing all of these inspections and regulations so can sell their products cheaper. This means that when you eat imported foods, you are playing the Chinese food version of “Russian roulette.”
We need to increase funding for the USFDA, and one simple way would be to require importers to pay a fee for screening of imports to the USFDA for imports that are under its jurisdiction. This would enable the USFDA to add more staff to expand their inspection of imported goods, especially food imports.
You may be thinking that the U. S. Consumer Protection Agency is recalling food products that are determined by the USFDA to be contaminated or toxic, but you won’t find any food products listed if you go to their site to see the list of the products recalled for the month. This agency recalls manufactured products such as appliances, electrical goods, and toys, etc. The USFDA website lists all of the food, drug, and cosmetic recalls. No country of origin information is listed on the USFDA website. The Consumer Protection agency website has been revamped this year to make it more difficult to find out where a product is manufactured. Previously, you would see the list of products recalled, and the country of manufacture would be listed with the description of the product and why it was recalled. Now, it is a two-step process. On the first page, you see an image of the product and the reason why it was recalled, but no country is listed. You have to select finding products by country of manufacture to get the list for a particular country, such as China. Now, it would be more difficult to come up with how many products are coming from China compared to other countries.
The best solution for this problem would be for Congress to pass a law requiring country-of-origin labels for all human and pet food products similar to the nutritional information labels now required on packaged food products so consumers can see where their food is coming from. San Diego entrepreneur and businessman, Alan Uke has proposed what he calls a “Transparent Label.” in his book, Buying America Back: A Real-Deal Blueprint for Restoring American Prosperity. He wants such a label for all manufactured products, which would include food for humans and pets. He feels that it is important for consumers to “see the last place where the product was manufactured” and “to discern what portion of its components came from other places.” In the case of food, it should include country-of-origin for all of the major ingredients so that consumers would be able to make decisions on whether or not they want to buy a product based on the origin of the major ingredients. Mr. Uke also recommends that consumers be provided the country of origin information they need at the point of sale whether at a store or online.
He points out that the current information provided on country of origin labels is “misleading, incomplete, inaccessible, or all of these…In order to support our economy and American industries, we must have easily accessible, clearly communicated, and truthful information about a product’s entire origins.” We desperately need to have such a “Truth in Origin” label.
Hundreds of American pets have been poisoned and died by tainted food products from China. American children have already been harmed by dangerous levels of lead and cadmium in toys. How many Americans must die from tainted Chinese products before Congress acts?