U.S. food inspectioin system lacking
NEW YORK -- This isn't the only developed country to have experienced serious problems with food contamination. We've just been extraordinarily lackadaisical when it comes to doing something about it. A new federal report on the common-sense step...
NEW YORK -- This isn't the only developed country to have experienced serious problems with food contamination. We've just been extraordinarily lackadaisical when it comes to doing something about it. A new federal report on the common-sense steps taken by Japan, Canada, Ireland and several other nations provides a practical guide to food safety. The only question remaining is: What's taking the United States so long to follow it?
The report, released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, outlines steps that aren't all about giant government bureaucracies. Rather, they're workable for industry and more efficient at using limited resources. Foremost among them is the sensible creation of one agency to oversee food safety, as opposed to the bifurcated U.S. system in which the Department of Agriculture oversees meat and poultry, and the Food and Drug Administration takes charge of most other foods.
Unlike USDA and the FDA, these foreign agencies have the power to recall dangerous foodstuffs, as well as to require producers to recall their products when there is reason to think they might be unsafe. In addition, the agencies responsible for protecting consumers don't dilute their mission by also promoting the industry. USDA's dual goal of inspecting meat and protecting the interests of the cattle industry is the most likely reason the agency does no more than desultory testing and is trying to stop one beef producer that wants to ratchet up its safety standards.
These countries have a "farm to table" policy in which safety laws cover every stage of food production, from field to shipper to processor and so forth. They put most of the responsibility for food safety on the producers, require importers to pay for the disposal of bad food and focus their inspections on foods that carry the greatest risk of contamination. (Lettuce and tomatoes, anyone?)
In the European Union, food is tracked from farm to consumer through a "one step forward, one step back" system: At each stage, the company shipping or handling the food must know both its supplier and its customer. The lack of such a tracking system is part of why the FDA has been unable to locate the source of the salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 1,100 people in this country in the last couple of months.
-- Los Angeles Times
Changes coming in Japan food industry
TOKYO -- The recently issued fiscal report on agriculture conveys a strong sense of crisis regarding Japan's food supply, stating that "unprecedented changes are taking place." The government must take measures to increase domestic food production and stabilize food imports, and consumers should change their wasteful eating habits.
Japan's food self-sufficiency rate fell to 39 percent on a calorie basis in fiscal 2006. This year, international prices of cereals such as wheat and corn climbed to record levels, because of crop failure attributed to climate change, increasing use of cereals for biofuel production and population increases in developing countries.
At 900.2 billion tons per kilometers, "the food mileage" (amount of food transported times the transport distance) for Japan, the world's largest food importer, is about fives times that of Britain and about three times that of the United States and South Korea, the white paper warns. Transporting food from abroad to Japan produces 1.9 times more carbon dioxide than transporting it inside Japan.
From the viewpoint of fighting global warming, consuming food closer to where it's grown makes sense.
The white paper points out that the Japanese throw away 19 million tons of food as waste every year, equivalent to three times the world's food assistance. Serious attention should be paid to reviewing habits that lead to such waste.
Japan relies on five countries including the U.S., China and Australia for more than 70 percent of its farm imports. To help diversify its food suppliers, Japan should strive to push ahead with trade negotiations conducted under the auspices of the World Trade Organization.
-The Japan Times