A food safety system that has imploded in the United States.
As we have opened U.S. markets to foodstuffs from around the world and simultaneously attempted to "starve the government beast" by removing tax support and services, we have destroyed a food safety apparatus that was once the envy of the civilized world. More and more, consumers are forced to rely upon a "privatized" food safety system that is unreliable, misleading and frequently simply not even present.
In recent years, millions of pounds of hamburger have been recalled, along with thousands of pounds of fish, tons of tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, sprouts and peppers, and dozens of other food products. Literally thousands of people have been made ill and dozens have died. Of course, part of the problem is increased reliance upon third-world producers in China, Mexico and other nation-states where our standards of hygiene and regulation are not met. In other cases, however, the contamination has occurred in our own slaughterhouses and markets.
The Food and Drug Administration, created in 1906 in response to revelations of grossly unsanitary food processing in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, has been rendered essentially toothless by inadequate funding and the cynical selection of industry insiders to head the agency. Some retailers have worked to establish private inspection systems, however, there are enormous gaps in these private efforts. Inspectors are not certified and some retailers and wholesalers either avoid or evade inspection systems. Retailers have simply not created a demand for inspection of some products, like broccoli for example. In the meantime, the FDA and the Department of Agriculture are essentially toothless, with no power of recall and little power to enforce existing guidelines or regulations.
Eighty percent of our fresh fruit now comes from overseas, and less than one percent of those imports are inspected. Our government relies upon reported illness or contamination before it can act, and when it does act, it cannot act decisively. Nevertheless, the Bush Adminsistration has repeatedly refused additional funding for the FDA; if we refuse to adequately fund these agencies, we are effectively deciding to use American citizens as canaries to test our food supply, and small numbers of us will pay the price.