Opening Statement: House Committee On Energy And Commerce, Subcommittee On Oversight And Investigations: Can The FDA Assure The Safety And Security Of The Nation's Food Supply? --Part 2
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thanks for holding the hearing. And I want to thank our witnesses for taking the time to come before us today.
As you're hearing, food safety is an extremely high-priority issue from a public health standpoint, as well as a national security issue. And as we talk about a security agenda, we hear more rather than less about this from our constituents. And as you're hearing also, the recent episodes of food contamination have highlighted weaknesses in the FDA's food safety review system.
And we all are fearful. And we're all aware that terrorists could easily inflict harm upon our nation's food supply because of the gaps that are becoming evident in this system. We know that we are vulnerable to harm from abroad, where rules and regulations governing food production are often more lax than they are here at home.
As you know, the FDA only has enough inspectors to check about 1 percent of the $8.9 million imported food shipments each year. And that was last year's number. According to USDA, the U.S. is expected to import a record $70 billion in ag products this year, which is nearly double the $36 billion purchased overseas in '97.
In addition, total food imports in the U.S. have risen by about 50 percent over the last five years. We're all aware that last year our nation was a net importer of food, rather than having a domestically grown food supply.
And while our food supply has generally been safe in the past, as you were hearing from other members, the Chinese-made food products have become the subject of an ongoing investigation and, of course, of the international news attention in recent months. The dangerous chemicals, such as melamine and glycol, have been found in food products intended for both human and animal consumption. This has led to an unprecedented recall of pet foods, toothpaste, pizza, protein bars, baby formula and, most recently, seafood.
We must seek greater accountability in the food supply through FDA reform of its antiquated food safety review system. The FDA must enter the 21st century, where globalization has changed the needs of the food review process and presents very different challenges. Gone are the days when we can say our food supply is homegrown. We now live in a global economy and free trade has opened the doors to an increased interdependence among nations.
The FDA is going to have to transition from defense to offense, like it or not. And they're going to have to implement a risk-based import control system to stop dangerous food imports from reaching our shores.
It is vital that we work with other countries to prevent future bioterrorism opportunities in the country of origin and not when it has entered our food supply.
A reformed import system will improve knowledge and assessment of public health risk. The FDA must focus on maximizing its resources toward this effort.
They're behind in this; this is something that they're going to have to put their energy into, have more communication among their different branches and get in front of this problem -- make the changes that are necessary for policing this food supply.
They should work with foreign governments to establish acceptable international food safety standards and encourage good manufacturing practices. The FDA should improve data collection from foreign producers to insure they have all the information necessary to conduct risk assessments abroad.
It's imperative that the FDA improve dialogue with these foreign governments to raise the bar on adequate standards and review of our food supply.
Americans believe they can trust their food supply and place quality control in the hands of American buyers and their suppliers. We must keep all Americans safe by insuring we have a strong risk- based food import review system.