With the recent discovery of melamine-contaminated wheat gluten in dog food and e. coli turning up in spinach, one has to begin to wonder about the safety of our food supply. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, brings up the issue of the amount of food that is now being imported into the US, the vast majority of it un-inspected. This figure has been steadily increasing over the last fifteen years to the point that about 10% of our total food supply is imported from over 130 different countries. However, the FDA currently inspects only .7 percent of the food being imported, so it is obvious that a vast amount of food is going straight from foreign soils right to our table with no form of quality control.

Part of the issue revolves around whose responsibility it should be to inspect the food. Should it be inspected by the producers of the importers? A large part of the problem stems from the fact that numerous agencies are involved in food safety in this countries. An ongoing issue is funding for the inspections to take place. Despite ever-increasing amounts of food being imported, the budgets for the agencies responsible for regulation have not kept pace – over the past decade, the FDA’s budget for food safety had dropped to nearly half of what it was ten years ago.

An article from Medill Reports yesterday notes several other recent cases of food safety issues, including salmonella-contaminated peanut butter and tainted lettuce in Pennsylvania Taco Bell restaurants. A new Food Safety oversight position has been created by the FDA, but whether this new position will have any clout remains to be seen.

If the current budget for the FDA only allows a tiny portion of the food to be inspected properly, it seems doubtful that even a massive increase in funding will really help alleviate the problem. There are no easy answers, but this writer will be looking for more local food resources, including the backyard garden, as a viable alternative to buying food from huge conglomerates that appear to have lost the ability to provide quality assurance for their products. At least, if I raise my own vegetables, I know what goes into their production and the conditions under which they are being grown.

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