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Defective Products from China: Come on In!

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Washington, DCSeems like not a day goes by that we don't hear of another defective product imported from China. First it was melamine in Menu Food's pet food, then lead in toys and tainted toothpaste and now fish riddled with antibiotics, a possible cancer-causing agent and even the use of carbon monoxide to keep fish looking 'fresh'.

Defective products from China fishSo what does the FDA do to increase safety measures before the public is exposed to defective products from China? It decides to close 7 of its 13 laboratories that test for these problems. Unfathomable! Last month the FDA announced a ban on five kinds of seafood imported from China (shrimp, catfish, eel, basa and dace--a carp) but what good is that if it can't regulate the ban?

On July 18, the New York Times reported that Michigan Democrat Representative Bart Stupak said the closings "would likely expose Americans to even more danger from unsafe food, particularly imports." FDA commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach said that "closing the labs would make the agency more efficient" and that outbreaks of food-borne illness in 2006-2007 "underscore the need to develop new multidisciplinary and integrated food safety strategies."

The FDA commissioner doesn't convince Representative John D Dingell either, another Michigan Democrat and chairman of the House committee. Dingall has temporarily halted the FDA's plans to close the labs until the Government Accountability Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress, issues a report.

In a testimony before a House Committee on July 17, it was reported that the FDA lacks resources to stop defective and contaminated products from entering the US. The Times reported that "since 2003, the number of inspectors has decreased while imports of food alone have almost doubled." Out of 300 US ports where food is imported, the agency only has enough inspectors to visit 90 of them. Furthermore, the FDA inspects approximately 1 percent of the food that is in the agency's jurisdiction. (The Agriculture Department inspects 16 percent of imported meat: does that mean they have a bigger budget?)

Perhaps Congress should vote on giving the FDA more money to do its job, before another wave of contaminated food hits US shores.

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