A full plate of potential dangers

John Dimsdale May 9, 2007

A full plate of potential dangers

John Dimsdale May 9, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: A month or so into the contaminated pet food story, the Chinese government has decided to take action. Today, it promised inspections of livestock feed, animal medicines and pig slaughterhouses.

The FDA’s keeping an eye on things here. Marketplace’s John Dimsdale reports there’s a whole wide world of food sources out there to be worried about.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Americans are getting more of their food from overseas — $65 billion worth last year. A number that’s been growing between 10 and 15 percent a year since 2001.

STEPHANIE SELESNICK: If you go to a Cheesecake Factory, you’re gonna see something from all over the planet in some kind of a fusion.

Stephanie Selesnick of the National Restaurant Association says immigration has helped spark a growing appetite for foreign cuisine.

SELESNICK: There used to be a season when you could get fresh corn or you could get grapes. Today you can walk into many kinds of supermarkets and get produce that’s grown all over the world.

The Food and Drug Administration inspects only 1 percent of food imports. Not enough, according to Chris Waldrup of the Consumer Federation of America.

CHRIS WALDRUP: Right now, the FDA is sorely lacking in resources and funding to be able to ensure that all the imports that are coming in are as safe as they should be.

The food inspection budget hasn’t been keeping up with the pace of imports, although the White House has asked for a significant increase in 2008.

It’s not just melamine in pet food that has food inspectors concerned. Asian food manufacturers routinely use additives and preservatives, such as formaldehyde and cyanuric acid, that have been banned in this country.

Imported food can be tough to track. For example, some of the tainted Chinese pet food was fed to U.S. hogs and poultry.

A group of federal agencies is putting together a more comprehensive assessment of animal exposure to the contaminated pet food that should be out by the end of the week.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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