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The Baltimore Sun reports that the Bush administration and the US Congress “are moving toward the creation of a new system for screening imported foods that would require companies to certify that their foreign suppliers meet U.S. standards. The new system would place a much heavier burden for consumer safety on the American firms that import goods from China, Mexico and elsewhere.

“The government would set the rules for the system, and the Food and Drug Administration would inspect more imports than it does now. But the bulk of the responsibility for ensuring safety would fall on industry.”

The proposal does not have unanimous support. There are some in Congress who believe that the government needs to significantly heighten its inspection patterns beyond the one percent of all imports that are inspected now, and even charge a fee in importers. But fee-averse industry groups are fighting that proposal, calling it a tax.

Still, the general consensus seems to be that the government is severely overstretched in this area, and that industry needs to be given greater responsibility for import safety standards being met.
KC's View:
As sure as I am that the government is not up to this task, I’m also not sure that it makes sense for the federal government to just shift some of these responsibilities to private enterprise. This may come as a surprise, but not all companies are reputable and responsible – some actually will cut corners in pursuit of a buck, and I’m not sure that the US consumer is equipped to know the difference between the good importers and the bad ones.

The reality is that when imported products do harm to the consumer, everybody in the chain suffers – consumers, retailers and suppliers. There’s no question that the current system is inadequate. But the way the changes are described, I can’t shake the feeling that all these guys are doing is moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic.