Shutdown threatening our already questionable food security

Marion Nestle author of SAFE FOOD: The Politics of Food Safety writes that the American food system is “breathtaking in its irrationality: 35 separate laws administered by 12 agencies housed in 6 cabinet-level departments.” She calls the fact that more of us aren’t dropping over with food borne illnesses “nothing less than miraculous, a tribute more to our immune systems, the benefits of cooking and food preservation, and plain good luck than to federal oversight.”

I wrote about this in Where Am I Eating?

In 2001, the United State’s Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) inspected less than 1 percent of imported foods. After the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, they doubled the amount of imported food inspected. But still in 2004 Tommy Thompson, the then Secretary of Health under the Bush Administration, saw the weakness in our food system and said, “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do.”

In 2012 the FDA inspected 2.3 percent of imported food. Put another way, the FDA inspects one pound of food for every one million that enters the United States.

A decade ago 6 million shipments of imported food arrived to our ports, and now in 2012, we’ll receive approximately 24 million shipments Over that same period of time, the number of FDA inspectors has only grown from 1,350 to 1,800. That’s a 400 percent increase in imports and only a 33 percent increase in inspectors.

That’s scary enough, right? Well, it’s worse now. Because of the government shutdown 45% of the FDA employees have been furloughed. The agency wouldn’t confirm what percent of imported food is currently being inspected, but just that it’s less than 2%.

Let’s hope the terrorist don’t read the New York Times.

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