United States Import Safety, Environmental Health, and Food Safety Regulation in China

Article excerpt

Research Questions and Methods

Imports--including imports of food--comprise an important aspect of the U.S. economy; the country's manufacturing and processing industries are increasingly dependent on imports to meet the rising demand for goods among U.S. consumers. In particular, the volume of U.S. seafood and aquaculture imports has significantly increased as consumer demand continues to rise. According the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the volume of seafood imports in the U.S. has more than doubled during the past 10 years (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2006). Part of this increase has consisted of Chinese seafood products. As of 2007, 100% of basa consumed in the U.S. was imported, and 80% of those imports came from China; meanwhile, approximately 2% of catfish consumed in the U.S. was imported, 99% of which was of Chinese origin (Bottari, 2007). The U.S. currently imports more aquaculture products than it exports. Several recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) import alerts have raised concerns about the safety of globally traded Chinese seafood (Solomon, 2007). The acknowledgement of safety concerns regarding imports on which the U.S. is already dependent reveals a significant trade-policy dilemma. On the one hand, it is the obligation of the U.S. government's regulatory agencies and the nation's food importers, food processing facilities, and retailers to protect consumers from hazards that may be present in imported seafood products, including aquaculture products from China; on the other hand, sustaining and satisfying the U.S. food industry and American consumer demand requires a continuous supply of seafood imports, including those from China. This dilemma leads to the following fundamental questions:

* What are the sources of environmental health and food safety problems in the Chinese aquaculture industry?

* What steps have been taken by U.S. and Chinese authorities to protect consumers?

To answer these questions, we employed a systematic and multidisciplinary research approach. This involved an in-depth review of government documents (including, but not limited to, U.S. congressional hearings, import safety data, and laboratory test results), conference presentations by experts at the interface of food safety and environmental health, and a number of published studies. In addition, interviews were conducted with government officials from such agencies as FDA and Customs and Border Protection.

Analysis and Discussion: U.S. Import Safety and Chinese Aquaculture

International trade in food, plants, animals, and animal products can transmit infectious disease agents and toxic chemical contaminants across nation-state borders. Increased globalization of the food supply has led to the introduction of new foods, food handling practices, and dietary habits into different regions. Regional food safety problems have increasingly become globalized problems; food safety problems that were once confined to certain regions can now be felt thousands of miles away (Lang, 1999). This globalization has resulted in the emergence and reemergence of foodborne disease outbreaks and incidents of food contamination in different regions of the world. Effective and timely management of such food safety problems requires rapid international exchange of information. Global cooperation between governments is crucial to the timely identification, prevention, or control of emerging food safety problems.

The U.S. has for a long time grappled with safety problems involving imported food, drugs, and raw materials for industries. Recent policy issues involving China include a March 15, 2007, nationwide recall involving several brands of pet food in the U.S. This recall was prompted after pet food caused several illnesses and deaths in cats and dogs. In this incident, contaminated raw material imports from China were used in the manufacture of animal feed. …