Americans Love Imported Foods but are Too Quick To Blame Them
Tags: antibiotics, automatic detention, Buy American, e coli, FDA, food, how much food is imported, import alert, imports, outbreaks, recalls, red list, River Ranch Fresh Foods, safety, salmonella, statistics
Americans consume an incredible amount of imported foods. For shrimp, over 90% of what we consume is imported, for produce, 35%, and some estimates claim that 20% of the total U.S. food supply is imported.1 Whether it’s caviar or truffles or bananas or cookies, we love our food choices, in season and out, and would be devastated if our imported food supplies suddenly dried up. Yet whenever there is a food safety scare (E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, antibiotics), some Americans are quick to turn on “foreign foods” and naively assume that our own domestic foods are somehow safer because, well, they’re American.
Foreign Food Fears
In fact, foreign food manufacturers have a greater incentive to avoid a food safety crisis because they have more at stake. Foreign food manufacturers pay substantial attention to food safety concerns because if FDA finds Salmonella in imported shrimp, or undeclared colors in imported energy drinks, or carbendazim in imported orange juice, FDA puts the manufacturer (and sometimes the region or country) on an Import Alert Red List, a/k/a/ the Automatic Detention List, a/a/k/a the Soon-to-be-Dead-Companies List. Getting placed on an FDA Import Alert stops a foreign food manufacturer dead in its tracks; and some never recover. (If you’re wondering how to get off an Import Alert read this.) In contrast, when FDA or a State health agency finds a problem with a domestic product with the same problems, there’s a recall (usually relatively quiet) or nothing happens at all (Ex: Carbendazim in domestic orange juice receiving enforcement discretion whereas Brazilian suppliers were added to FDA Import Alert 99-08).
You may not know it but there’s currently a Listeria recall happening from a stateside producer.2 Chances are that River Ranch Fresh Foods won’t be put out of business by FDA by getting placed on import alert — oh, we forgot, FDA can only do that to foreign suppliers. Where are all the food safety critics outraged that American consumers are being sold unsanitary food? Insert crickets here– chirp, chirp.
The problem is that FDA and other government agencies (and the press), either deliberately or ignorantly, throw imported foods under the bus, assuming that they are unsafe, will become more unsafe or are inherently more risky and thus more federal power is necessary to protect Americans from these products. This is ridiculous. See, e.g., our previous post about how CDC failed in a highly touted report to factor in the increased volume of food imports to support a claim that food safety outbreaks from imported foods were on the rise. “FDA and CDC even went so far as to make the totally inverse conclusion that imported food is more dangerous when, in reality, domestic foods have been the cause of most of the worst food safety outbreaks in the last 10 years.” (Read more here).
U.S. consumers certainly respond to “buy American” marketing propositions but also can’t live without globally produced products (especially food). Mexico is the breadbasket of North America, and no one can put the genie back into the bottle. Do not assume that stateside products are safer than imports per se, no matter what FDA says.