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Sunday, March 28, 2010

U.S. Food and Agricultural Imports: Safeguards and Selected Issues

Geoffrey S. Becker
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Does the U.S. safety system, first created at a time when most Americans obtained their foods domestically, adequately protect public health? What, if any, changes should be made to enhance the safety of food imports (which now constitute about 15% of U.S. food consumed generally but are much higher for some products such as seafood)? Critics argue that major reforms are necessary because the present programs are both poorly designed and inadequately funded to meet today's challenges. An opposing argument is that imported foods already are subject to the same safety standards as—and pose no greater hazards than—domestically produced foods. The issue of import safety was the focus of numerous congressional hearings and bills in the 110th Congress, and remains high on the policy agenda of the 111th Congress. 

Attention is now focused on two pending food safety bills, which seek to address the safety primarily of foods regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The food inspection activities of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is responsible for meat and poultry safety, have not been targeted for changes by these bills. Both bills—H.R. 2749 by Representative Dingell, and S. 510 by Senator Durbin—seek tighter controls over imports, and both would require that imports be subject to certification systems whereby accredited third parties (such as foreign governments or others) might be tasked with assuring that imported food products meet U.S. food safety requirements. The bills variously would provide expedited entry for imports that meet additional standards; require preventive safety plans and more inspections, based on risk, of foreign as well as domestic facilities; and/or ban imports from foreign countries and facilities that refuse requests for U.S.-sponsored safety inspection, among other provisions. 

The House cleared H.R. 2749 on July 30, 2009, after it had been amended and passed by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health on June 10, 2009, and by the full committee on June 17, 2009. On the Senate side, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions reported an amended version of S. 510 on December 18, 2009.

Date of Report: March 17, 2010
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RL34198
Price: $29.95

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