As the window for approving and ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) narrows, Food & Water Watch today released data on food safety violations for imported food. According to the results of a Freedom of Information Act request, from January 1, 2015 to June 10, 2016 USDA’s Food Safety Inspection System (FSIS) personnel stationed at U.S. ports of entry rejected nearly 30,000 shipments, totaling more than 69 million pounds of imported food from other nations. Nearly 64 million pounds of this meat, poultry, catfish and egg products were rejected for serious food safety violations; a mere 70 FSIS import inspectors generated these rejections.
“If passed and ratified, the TPP will open up a flood of food exports to the United States from nations with questionable food safety standards,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Food safety border inspectors are overtaxed as it is; allowing for more imports will only add to this burden and potentially increase the volume of unsafe foods that enter our food system.”
Imports are increasing
These rejections come as the volume of imported products under FSIS’s purview increases. A reduction in domestic meat processing is partially responsible for an overall increase in meat imports. In FY2015, the total number of pounds of imported meat and poultry products increased to 4.4 billion—a 42 percent jump over FY2013. More foreign food safety systems are receiving equivalency determinations that qualify them to export food to the United States.
Many of the unsafe imports came from TPP member nations. Of the meat and poultry rejected for serious violations, over 18 million pounds came from Australia, just over 7 million pounds came from Canada, 4 million pounds came from Chile and over 6 million pounds came from New Zealand. Though not a TPP nation, Brazil was among the top five sources of rejected products—over 2.7 million pounds were turned away by FSIS border inspectors for serious food safety violations. Yesterday, USDA announced its intention to accept fresh beef imports from Brazil, meaning we could expect to see even more tainted products reaching FSIS inspectors.
“The volume of imported food entering our food system is increasing, meaning it’s more important than ever that FSIS provide the public with inspection information. That’s why we urge FSIS to post all import rejections to its website on a monthly basis. U.S. consumers deserve to know the food safety track records of the nations whose food we eat,” added Hauter.