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Tougher food import laws proposed

By Charlotte Eyre , 25-Sep-2007

A bill proposing stricter import regulations has been presented to Congress, as fears over imported food products show no sign of diminishing.

The "Food and Drug Import Safety Act of 2007" demonstrates that regulators, as well as consumers and manufacturers, are worried about the quality of imported products, especially in the face of a rising number of goods being manufactured or processed in Asia.


The bill proposes that the number of ports where food imports arrive should be limited to 13, so that tainted or damaged products are easier to spot.


What's more, these "ports of entry" must have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laboratory in the vicinity to carry out any necessary testing.


Tests used to spot pathogens at these sites should be perfected, and priority should be given to detecting the presence of the pathogens E. coli, salmonella, cyclospora, hepatitis A and listeria, all of which cause possibly fatal food-borne diseases, the bill says.


The US should also set up overseas inspection facilities to eliminate food safety problems at the source, the bill suggests, paid for by manufacturers' fees on food imports.


Furthermore, any foreign company wishing to export a food product into the US must use country-of-origin labels, the bill says, because of "the need for tracking and maintaining records on food and ingredients….moved through the supply chain."


These foreign companies may also obtain a certificate from the US Secretary of State, the bill said, that will demonstrate to consumers that they use reliable production methods and comply with US safety standards.


This Food and Drug Import Safety Act, sponsored by the John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is scheduled for a hearing September 26.


Several manufacturers across the country will approve of strengthening import safety, as they have been urging the government to toughen regulations for some time now.


Last week, the US Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which counts food giants such as Kraft and Heinz as members, said that the current system of checks was failing to stem the tide of faulty imports.


"Ensuring the United States has the safest food supply in the world is priority number one for the food and beverage industry," said Cal Dooley, GMA President.


The GMA suggested a four-pillar plan, stating that government should free up more money and resources for the FDA, while, reciprocally, the FDA must pledge to use the extra resources and "adequately fulfil its food safety mission."


According to the Washington Post, the value of goods imported by the US has doubled since 2000, to reach an estimated $2.2tn this year. The value of goods from China, which is the second-largest exporter to the US after Canada, is expected to reach $341bn this year, up almost 25 per cent from last year.


Diseases caused by food-borne pathogens are still common-place in the US, the newspaper added, and this week California's Dole Food had to recall over 5,000 bags of salad after a random test revealed the presence of E. coli on the product.


According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses occur in the US each year, causing about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.


The CDC identified 17,252 laboratory-confirmed cases of food poisoning in 2006, including 6,655 cases of salmonella and 590 cases of E-coli O157. In 2005, 16,614 cases were identified, rising from 15,806 in 2004.

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