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Friday, August 23 2019 @ 11:20 pm EDT

Trade deals mean more unsafe food, group says

Food & Drink By David J. Lynch, USA TODAY - Pending trade deals with Peru and Panama could open the door to an increase in imports of unhealthy seafood, according to the watchdog group Public Citizen. The warning comes amid repeated episodes in recent months of poor-quality food, toys, toothpaste and tires imported from China. Inspectors for the Food and Drug Administration, which examines less than 2% of all seafood imports, reject on average a couple of shipments each month from the two Latin American nations for reasons such as filth, salmonella in shrimp and listeria in smoked salmon. The past nine years, U.S. food inspectors rejected 207 Panamanian seafood shipments and 182 Peruvian deliveries, according to FDA statistics obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Food & Water Watch, a Public Citizen offshoot. The United States imported just $104.8 million worth of seafood last year from Panama and $60.6 million from Peru — only a sliver of the $1.9 billion in Chinese-made seafood it buys. Those figures are expected to rise, however, under the proposed trade deals, which Congress is expected to consider later this year. Today, 81% of all seafood is imported, and government inspectors would be overwhelmed by a further import surge triggered by lowering trade barriers, says Lori Wallach, Public Citizen's trade expert. (more)

Even as the volume of food imports has grown, the number of Food and Drug Administration inspectors has shrunk from about 3,200 in 2003 to about 2,800 today, according to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. The safeguards the U.S. has put in place over the past century are "jeopardized by free trade agreements that pay little or no attention to food safety," he said.

Provisions in the trade deals requiring the U.S. to treat imported and domestic products alike — a standard part of such accords — mean that additional inspections couldn't be ordered for potentially suspect imports.

"There's just no way to fix our imported-food safety problem without fixing our trade policy," Wallach said.

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