12 May 1998
USA urged to toughen food import checks
THE investigative arm of the US Congress, the General Accounting Office (GAO), said increasing food imports had added to the toll of food-borne illnesses suffered by more than 81 million Americans.
It said in a report that measures taken by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for monitoring imports were inadequate.
The GAO found up to 81m cases of illness and 9,100 deaths caused by food in 1996. The FDAs coverage of shipments fell from about 8% in 1992 to about 1.7% in 1997.
The FDA has requested authorisation for an “equivalency” system similar to that of the US Agriculture Department which is responsible for inspecting meat, poultry and some egg imports.
The GAO recommended that Congress act on the request. Equivalency refers to imports from countries which have similar food safety systems and sends inspectors abroad to check on foreign systems.
The GAO also wants the FDA to take preventative action with food safety instead of requiring equivalency after problems are identified.
President Bill Clinton has asked for another $101m (£62m) to hire more inspectors and provide technical help to US trade partners whose products fail US tests. Congress must still to pass these proposals but the signs are positive that it will act.
- Financial Times 12/05/98 page 8