Product safety shouldn't be sacrificed for cost

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Producers are fond of saying we have the safest food supply in the world, and they're correct.

For food produced in this country, that is.

It's common to hear that Japan has again suspended import of Nebraska beef because of a minor technical infraction -- shipping of perfectly safe products to Japan which are not included on the "approved" list -- Americans are much more lenient with products coming this way.

While we have dealt effectively with the infinitesimal chance of allowing mad cow disease into our own food supply, and the products we ship to the world, the opposite doesn't seem to be true.

And, while the Food and Drug Administration's regulatory affairs staff has shrunk from about 4,000 full-time employees in 2003 to fewer than 3,500 today, it is expected to inspect an ever-increasing flood of imported products.

The huge pet food recall, caused by a supplier in China who added melamine, a chemical used to make plastics, to wheat gluten to artificially inflate protein tests, is the latest example. Unfortunately, the improptu food trial discovered that melamine is toxic in cats and dogs.

And that's just food. It says nothing about the working conditions under which foreign products are produced, or the environmental impact of the factories which produced them.

Think Nebraskans are disconnected from the global economy? A Gazette reader brought in a photograph of his cupboard, with a list of the products and their origins:

Fosamax -- made in Spain; gelatin -- "USA, I think;" steak rub -- made in Canada; Mandarin oranges -- from China; mushrooms -- from Indonesia; Kool Aid -- Mexico; asparagus -- Peru; olive oil -- Italy; peaches -- Greece; clams -- Vietnam. Non food items include a color printer cartridge from Singapore, a photo color printer cartridge from Hungary, one type of fish food from Germany and another type from Australia.

As our reader's cupboard indicates, we're using and consuming products from all over the world, and we're buying them because of the lure of low prices.

That shouldn't be at the cost of knowing that they are safe products produced in a responsible manner.

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