High levels of arsenic in apple juice imported from China and other countries with lax food safety standards was one of the biggest, and scariest, stories of 2011. Now, just a couple weeks into 2012, we’re faced with another imported juice scare.
This week, the FDA sent a letter to the juice industry about the fact that the fungicide carbendazim was found in several samples of orange juice concentrate coming from Brazil. In 2007, 32 percent of orange juice consumed in U.S. was imported, up from 23 percent in 1993. Top importers are Brazil and Mexico.It’s heartening, in this instance, that the FDA is doing its job and testing imported orange juice for toxic pesticide chemicals. But it’s impossible for the under-funded, under-staffed agency to police the tidal wave of food and beverage imports that flood our ports every day.
Exactly how much imported food comes into the U.S. every year? According to the 2008 Food & Water Watch report The Poisoned Fruit of American Trade Policy, each American consumed, on average, 31 pounds of imported fresh vegetables, 20 pounds of imported fresh fruit, and three gallons of imported juice in 2007 alone. And currently less than 2 percent of food and beverage imports get inspected by the FDA.
What’s scarier is that at the end of last year, the World Trade Organization ruled that the United States’ country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program is a violation of international trade law. If the U.S. does not appeal this ruling, Americans will be even more in the dark about where their food is coming from and less able to make informed food choices.
After more than a decade of hard work, the COOL rule was included in the 2008 Farm Bill and has had overwhelming support from both consumers and U.S. producers, despite repeated attempts by the food industry to kill the program and delay its implementation.
COOL doesn’t cover juice concentrate, but it does apply to seafood, meat, and fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and several kinds of nuts. If COOL goes away, the entire contents of our grocery cart could fall under the category of mystery origins, potentially toxic.
Then there’s the nearly impossible job that U.S. farmers have of contending with foreign meat and produce that’s grown without the same environmental and health requirements we have here. These inferior products are often “dumped” on U.S. consumers, which means domestic farmers can’t compete on price and many are forced out of business, while we, the consumers, are duped into buying inferior quality imported foods and beverages when many of us would prefer to support American farmers.
About a year ago, President Obama took one step forward by signing the Food Safety Modernization Act. But if he doesn’t defend COOL from the WTO, food safety and consumers’ right to information about the origin of their food, will take two steps back. Tell President Obama to keep our food supply safer by appealing the WTO ruling.