21 July 2007

Where is it from -- again

We've already had frightening news about food and medicine exported from China. More and more problem areas have continued to surface, including seafood, cardboard steamed buns, and even tires (found via Chell's Roost; also read this). And there have been alarming finds in imports from other Third World countries, even Mexico -- and note once again the scandalous inaction of the American authorities who are supposed to be protecting us.

(In an effort at "even-handedness", the article also cites other countries' concerns about American exports. However, the main examples it cites are objections to genetically-modified foods, about which there is no evidence suggesting that they might be harmful even though many people have an understandable "ick-factor" reaction to them, and concerns about mad-cow disease, of which vanishingly-few cases have ever been detected in the US.)

The sad fact is that Third World countries simply cannot afford the kind of comprehensive regulatory infrastructure that is the norm in rich countries, and what they do have tends to be riddled with corruption, partly because enforcement officials are so poorly paid that accepting bribes to overlook violations becomes a tempting option. A safe food supply is not cheap; it is one of the things that rich countries buy with their wealth. (Notice from the graph in the MSNBC article how low is the number of problems with imports from Canada relative to those from China, India, and Mexico, even though we import far more from Canada than from those countries.) Trade rules as currently set up are allowing cheap imports -- cheap in part because of the lack of adequate quality controls -- to do an end run around the standards which the US has built up over generations. 92% of Americans support mandatory labeling of food to show country of origin; when will the US government stop caving to the objections of agribusiness and start defending the interests of the public?

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