Focus On: Food Import Safety

  • October 19, 2011

Americans' appetite for imported food has expanded dramatically over the past few decades. For each of the past seven years, food imports have grown by an average of 10 percent.  Currently, between 10 and 15 percent of all food consumed by U.S. households is imported. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nearly two-thirds of the fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood consumed domestically come from outside the United States.

In this issue brief, the Pew Health Group and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) address the safety of imported seafood and raw produce, two of the largest categories of FDA regulated food items produced and processed abroad and then sold in the United States.  Our analysis of the rejections of these items in border inspections over the past two years found that a substantial amount is arriving in the United States potentially adulterated. We follow up on this assessment by reviewing the new system for import safety established in the recently enacted FDA food safety law, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and urge Congress to provide FDA with the resources necessary to fully implement this new and ambitious – but sorely needed – food import safety system. We conclude by recommending priorities that the agency should focus on in creating this new regulatory scheme, including, in particular, that FDA inspections of food imports—both in the countries of origin and at the U.S. border— be increased to keep up with the expanding globalization of our nation's food supply.