The FDA's own statistics show that its inspectors sample only 1.3 percent of all food being sent to the United States from other countries.
Short of creating one federal "superagency," another obvious solution: Give the FDA, especially, more cash to boost the number of inspectors and inspections of imported goods.
That sounds simple. However, in testimony delivered at a congressional hearing recently on the issue of food safety, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt went on record as saying that, "We cannot inspect our way to safety."
"The federal government cannot, and it should not, attempt to physically inspect every product that enters the United States," he said. "Doing so would bring the international trade of this country to a standstill."
Still, the agency's critics say the FDA would only gain from more funding and from broader powers to monitor foods from abroad.
The third, and least radical, alternative for improving oversight of imported foods: Give the agency recall authority. The FDA routinely recalls bad drugs from the market, but it has no such jurisdiction over bad food -- with the exception of infant formula.
"Now, if you're some little firm in China, and you know that there is no mandatory [FDA] recall authority, odds are you aren't going to get caught, so you can dump your less standard products in the U.S. with little recourse to who's going to track them down or enforce it," Milano said.
U.S. Inspectors Defend Their Performance
All three recommendations -- as well as others, such as country-of-origin labeling and instituting so-called equivalency standards that would demand that imported foods be as safe as domestic products -- are already making their way through Congress as part of a bill introduced by Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Energy and Commerc
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