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USA Today reports that the peculiar complications of the US bureaucracies have contributed to what can only be termed an alarming hole in the nation’s food import system.

Seven years ago, the story says, the US Congress voted to create what is called the “port shopping rule,” which essentially mandates that food shipments denied entry into the US would be marked as such, so that importers wouldn’t try to get the products through less strict points of entry.

“Despite broad support then — and renewed calls by Congress to tighten food import oversight — the marking law has yet to take hold. The FDA has yet to set specifications on such details as how big the mark should be and where it should go,” the paper writes, noting that “it's just one of many proposed solutions to long-standing problems with food imports that have been delayed, derailed or ignored by the FDA, Congress and the food industry while imports have soared in the past decade. The measures withered because of lack of funds, lack of political will, competing priorities and industry opposition, say former FDA officials and current lawmakers. And while recent tainted imports from China have spawned a slew of import-safety bills in Congress, the slow trek of the port-shopping law tempers expectations of quick and effective change.”

USA Today also notes that even if the FDA were suddenly to change its priorities and become aggressive, it will have to deal with such things as outdated computer systems. And the agency will be playing catch-up, no matter what it does. As the paper reports, “Because the FDA cannot easily inspect foreign manufacturing plants, it relies heavily on inspections at U.S. ports of entry. Yet, while food imports have soared about 50% in the past five years, the number of FDA food-import inspectors has fallen about 20%. The FDA inspects just 1% of food imports.”
KC's View:
Gives you a warm feeling inside, doesn’t it?

While the FDA continues to push for greater funding and authority, I’m not sure why there is any reason to believe that it will do a better job in the future than it has in the past. And I keep getting the feeling that virtually all of the changes being recommended amount to a band-aid on a deep wound, and that the holes in the safety infrastructure have their own holes, and that nobody understands how serious the problems may be.

Someone explain to me again why country of origin labeling (COOL) isn’t a good idea. This way, as a consumer, I could decide for myself what products I don't want to eat or drink, at least in part depending on where they come from. It may not be a perfect system nor an exact science, but it would give the consumer a certain level of autonomy in a system that doesn’t seem to work very well.

There are two passages in the USA Today that I found intriguing…and somewhat jarring.

• “Congress added the FDA's so-called "port shopping" rule to the high-profile Bioterrorism Act enacted in 2002.”

• “Randall Lutter, the FDA's deputy commissioner for policy, says the agency still intends to pursue the marking proposal. He gave no specific time frame.”

Now, it has been a while since I’ve taken a civics class, but since when is an enacted law a “proposal”? I didn’t know that departments and agencies were allowed to be so cavalier about such things.