An April news item in the Savannah Morning News noted an upcoming three-day festival paying tribute to Coastal Georgia’s shrimping industry. The activities would include a parade, a kids’ fishing rodeo, food booths, musical concerts, a shrimp box derby and the 40th annual Blessing of the Fleet. The festival honors Georgia’s largest shrimp fleet of 54 boats.
This year, however, the atmosphere is less joyful for an industry staggering under competition from imports as well as the high cost of diesel fuel. It is not a good sign when even the local seafood restaurants serve imported shellfish. A major portion of all seafood sold and served in the United States comes from China, and these Chinese imports have risen steadily. Imported Chinese seafood is flooding American supermarkets and restaurants.
The insatiable American appetite for cheaper goods leads to more and more low-paying offshore jobs and growing categories of products. While global trade has a net positive impact on the U.S. economy, it takes on a whole new dimension when those products enter the food and pharmaceutical system.
Our federal government to date has not been up to the task of managing and ensuring the safety aspects of imported goods for the American people. Importing food and drug products from countries with vastly different cultures and standards presents a mighty challenge for United States agencies responsible for oversight.
Former Food and Drug Administration officials point to an antiquated inspection system as the weak link in keeping Americans safe from the dangers arriving at our ports. A former FDA official who is now professor of health policy at George Washington University says there is no way to protect the American food supply when less than 1 percent of shipments is looked at and only one-fifth of those are sampled and tested. In a year’s time, 400 shipments of tainted seafood from China were turned away. Records show more than 100 of those were rejected for being filthy or decomposed.
Following disclosures about poisonous pet food and lead-filled toys from China last December, the FDA and the Chinese government agreed on new “voluntary” procedures to prevent dangerous products from reaching our ports. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that in March, inspectors checking Chinese seafood at U.S. ports discovered fish infected with salmonella and shrimp containing banned veterinary drugs.
So many of the ingredients in prescription drugs presently sold in the U.S. are now coming from China and other Third World countries. The FDA seems unable to monitor or test this overwhelming array of imports, and struggles with inadequate funds, personnel and expertise.
Recent news reports of high lead content in dental crowns imported from China is yet another serious concern. Lead has been found in the porcelain portion of these dental crowns at a level five times higher than Congress allows for toys. The American Dental Association is now investigating this issue.
A recent urgent recall of a commonly used heart prescription drug warns patients that each tablet may contain more than twice the strength indicated on the package, and that use of this drug should cease immediately. Does this medication have ingredients imported from China? We simply don’t know.
It is not comforting to read what former FDA officials have to say about the safety of imported goods: “As our system becomes more antiquated and ineffective, the world is sending us their junk.” When your food supply is being imported from countries that are still Third World countries in many ways, global trade takes on a different perspective. Imports are entering the U.S. food supply without adequate safeguards. The FDA seems to lack authority, funds and expertise. Our federal government has a long way to go in providing for public safety in this arena.