How Safe Is Imported Food?
In the wake of some food safety scares, experts offer advice for worried consumers.
Government Efforts continued...
The Safe Food Act would also give the FDA the authority to evaluate and
certify other countries' food safety programs.
Despite prevailing public opinion, Fiorillo cautions Americans not to
overreact and assume the worst about other countries' commitment to food
"I don't mean to downplay it," he says of recent problems with
But with regard to seafood farming and processing, "The misconception
right now is that it's out of control and nobody cares in China or Vietnam or
anywhere else, which is completely wrong. There's been a great amount of work
in the last few years by the governments, health authorities and industries of
those countries to institute testing, to educate the farmers," Fiorillo
says. But governments face big challenges in making improvements when food
industries are so fragmented, he says. "It's just a slow
One thing is clear, though: Americans want to know where their food comes
from. In 2002, Congress passed a law that required meat, seafood, produce, and
peanuts to carry "country-of-origin" labeling. To date, the law has
gone into effect only for seafood. Implementation for other products has
been delayed until September 2008.
Critics call country-of-origin labeling a logistical nightmare, especially
if manufacturers must list multiple countries for a single product. But a
recent Consumer Reports poll found that 92% of Americans surveyed
supported country-of-origin labeling.
Will knowing a food's origins automatically improve safety? Even U.S.
products have had recent contamination problems, such as E. coli-tainted
spinach from California and botulism in canned chili sauce from a Georgia
"It's just the beginning. It's not going to solve our food system
problems," Lovera says of labeling. "But if consumers are looking at
the news and they see story after story about China or somewhere else, they can
say, 'You know what? I'm just going to take a break because I'm worried about
Reducing Personal Risk
Right now, can consumers do anything to reduce their risk of harm from
tainted food? There are no easy answers, but experts offer these