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I'm not sure (math was not my strength in school) but that leaves something like 98.7 percent that is not inspected.

Ok, Bob, let's look at the math because you and Mr. Bridges are pissing me off.

Inspecting 1.3% of the food imports can mean

  • inspecting 1 in 77 food imports
  • inspecting 1 in 77 shipments of all food imports
  • inspecting 1 in 77 food containers in every shipment of every food import

Which one do you think it is?

And why is it a contradiction that "Just 1.3 percent of imported fish, vegetables, fruit and other foods are inspected — yet those government inspections regularly reveal food unfit for human consumption."

That the inspections regularly reveal tainted food means that the inspections are working.

Now, maybe there's evidence that the screening of food imports is flawed [the link to "Imported Food Rarely Inspected" doesn't work], but this is not it.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 05:44:30 AM EST
"Just 1.3 percent of imported fish, vegetables, fruit and other foods are inspected -- yet those government inspections regularly reveal food unfit for human consumption."

The way I read the above:

as 100% of foodstuffs travel from (eg) ships out to shops and from there into our (or animals') stomachs;

1.3% is held back and checked for various contaminants.  The other 98.7% of foodstuffs are therefore NOT held back and do, indeed, travel out to shops and from there into our stomachs UNLESS a specific batch from that day's check is found to be unfit for (human) consumption

and if you assume that rather than deliberately sell us unfit food the rule is "Well, we think it's okay (Bob's belief system described above)", then we can assume that of the 98.7% that isn't checked the same amount (though not necessarily the same specific products?) is unfit for consumption.

It's similar to looking for smuggled goods.  You can search one container, or one lorry, or one person, but if smuggling is endemic you will only catch what you find.

Did I get that all wrong?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 06:41:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's a working link to the article, and here's another quote.

Last month alone, FDA detained nearly 850 shipments of grains, fish, vegetables, nuts, spice, oils and other imported foods for issues ranging from filth to unsafe food coloring to contamination with pesticides to salmonella.

And that's with just 1.3 percent of the imports inspected. As for the other 98.7 percent, it's not inspected, much less detained, and goes to feed the nation's growing appetite for imported foods.

[...]

FDA inspections focus on foods known to be at risk for contamination, including fish, shellfish, fruit and vegetables. Food from countries or producers previously shown to be problematic also are flagged for a closer look.

Consider this list of Chinese products detained by the FDA just in the last month: frozen catfish tainted with illegal veterinary drugs, fresh ginger polluted with pesticides, melon seeds contaminated with a cancer-causing toxin and filthy dried dates.

Sounds to me as though they see 1000 containers A DAY and have to choose which thirteen to open.  All the other containers...go off to wherever they're going.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 06:47:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The guy used "food", "shipment" and "import" interchangeably, so I can't tell what is being inspected. Also, he says things like "200 containers per month are detained" without telling us how many containers per month are examined, and how many are shipped. But here is a meaningful statistic that shows deteriorating quality control:
Even as the amount of imported food increased, the percentage of FDA inspections declined from 1.8 percent in 2003 to 1.3 percent this year to an expected 1.1 percent next year.
There would be legitimate reasons for such a reduction, but since they are not given one has to assume they are not present, and this is just about inspections not being able to keep up with incresing import volume.
"Whenever they say 'risk-based approach,' it often means they don't have enough staff to actually do the job. They're doing triage. They're trying to hit what's most important to inspect but they're missing a lot," DeWaal said.
Maybe, but this person either doesn't understand sampling or decision theory, or is scaremongering (which is likely since she's an advocate feeding a soundbite to a journalist).

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:01:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I understand it, sampling/decision theory would work if afterwards you could block ALL imports from offenders.  So: is that happening?  If not, then they are simply saying how much they find and stop.  I was interested in what the punishments are.

The FDA has been stopping Chinese food import shipments at the rate of about 200 per month this year. Shippers have the right to appeal the detentions, after which the government can order products returned or destroyed.

Nothing there about fines, punishments, revoking of licences.  If I wished to import something, say powder cocaine, and I knew the punishment was destruction, detention (of goods), or return, I would simply flood the ports with containers full of my preferred product (I would probably use different company names, too.)  Those stopped, okay, that's my loss.  Those that get through--won't be recalled because the product is off...into the consumer chain.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:08:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you saying it's impossible to recall a product? That is patently not true. You make it sound like "the consumer chain" is untraceable.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:11:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The point is, they can only recall all the batches associated with the particular product name/producer they have discovered.  (I'm assuming that contamination is widespread across types of foodstuffs/producers.)  From the report, it seems China is the culprit (maybe other countries in the far east) because they have lax--or no--internal checks: if they have unhealthy practices across the board, the only effective result of sampling would be to ban all imports from there?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:19:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can recall whatever you want, if you want to recall all chinese imports you can order a recall of that.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:22:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Another way to think of it: They search 1.3% of...shipments/containers/types of foodstuff/etc... and find notable levels of contaminated food.  Extrapolation will tell us on average how much of the other 98.7% (of whatever) is also contaminated.  That 98.7% is already out of the port and away.

I can see this as a kairos moment.  Suddenly declare:

"Our main problem now is not recreational drugs; it is drugs being introduced into the food chain.  Henceforth all resources allocated to the seizure and destruction of recreational drugs will be diverted to examining imported foodstuffs.  And, we will be changing the penal code so that importation of illegal foodstuffs (defined as...damaging to human health) will carry--for producers AND shippers--the same penalties that used to acrue to recreational drugs."

Heh!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:13:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's not how it works.

You test 1% of the food (sampling as widely as possible), and if you find something contaminated you recall all products from the same batches as the contaminated ones.

"Out of the port and away" is a red herring. Shipments are traceable all the way to the local retailer.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:20:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's an FDA report from 1998.

http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/commissioner/speeches_statements/archives/1998/sep241998.xml

Now, when the FDA refuses a food shipment, we work with the importer, under the law, to destroy or ensure exportation of that shipment. Should an importer select destruction as an option, the destruction does not necessarily take place at a Customs port of entry. The destruction may occur, for example, at a landfill or at an incineration plant. It is difficult to determine whether a shipment presented for destruction is the actual shipment that was imported and tested because the shipment remained in the physical control of the importer. Another challenge we face is that every port does not have the resources to send an inspector to witness every destruction. Some of our ports do witness all destructions. We estimate that there are approximately 10,000 FDA required destructions conducted in a year.

If an importer selects exportation as an option, as stated above Customs is working with FDA to target high-risk shipments for heightened levels of verification of exportation or destruction. Customs will disseminate examination guidelines along with designated targets to all of our inspection personnel to aid in this process. Once we have confirmed the exportation of food that has failed testing, the possibility remains that the importer may try to re-import the food. This is a complicated issue for FDA and us, and we will consult with FDA to review their policy on this subject and do all that we can to ensure that rejected food is not brought back into the United States.

http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/commissioner/speeches_statements/archives/1998/sep241998.xml

That's for the shipments they have stopped at the port.  I'm assuming the stituation has deteriorated since 1998 (that would be one of the premises of the article quoted by Bob: that things are getting worse.)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:33:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just surfing around...I found this, from February this year.

Federal auditor calls for massive reform to food safety system

The current federal system for food safety regulation is fragmented, ineffective and inefficient and needs to be fixed, according to a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO).

Another area the GAO targets for reform is in the sensitive area of food recalls. The agency noted that recalls are voluntary and federal agencies responsible for food safety have no authority to compel companies to carry them out. The exception is infant formula, which the FDA has the authority to force a recall.

"These agencies do not know how promptly and completely companies are carrying out recalls, do not promptly verify that recalls have reached all segments of the distribution chain, and use procedures to alert consumers to a recall that may not be effective," the GAO stated.



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:39:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Like I said, there may be evidence that the system is not working, but the 1.3% sampling rate is not it. Declining sampling rates, ineffective recalls, etc, that I can go with.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:43:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, okay.  But I think your insistence on the 1.3% is a red herring.  I think what the author meant was: "They only look AND DEAL WITH 1.3% of what's coming through the ports."

If they looked at 1.3%, extrapolated out and uses that to deal with ALL products coming through the port (and I'm not sure how they'd do that without closing down the port for a few weeks and checking through every last producer--supplier-shipper-buyer chain--whatever the order is--so that the extrapolation turned into a real regulatory process)...then, really, they're checking 1.3% of throughput and blocking the percentage of the 1.3% (which I read is about 16%) which is fails FDA controls in some way.

That's what I've understood so far.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:49:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Coz, ya know, I'm just doing a bit of googling, but my "internal narrative" (my prejudice) tells me that contaminated food...is cheaper...makes more money...and the health of people...is a secondary consideration.  So: I is no expert, but what I've found so far confirms my prejudice (Republicans increase funds to fight wars against drugs and belief systems; they reduce funds to fight wars against health risks to US citizens...that kinda thing.)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:52:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
..though when I write "Republicans"..I dunno.  "Corruption"--corrupted individuals in positions of power sounds more like it.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:53:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The declining percentage of imports controlled could also be explained by the development of Quality Assurance certification like ISO 9000 standards. In that case, products and processes are inspected and certified at the manufacturer's production site under very strict rules.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 08:03:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you think they sample chinese factories too?  (The same rules would therefore apply.)  My suggestion is that we are seeing the deliberate reduction of standards due to...the lust for higher profits.  My bet: the companies shipping the contaminated foodstuffs are...owned by people with lossa money, including (but not only) americans.

Hence your good point re: REACH.

Recently, the European Union has adopted some of the world's strictest policies on e-waste and potentially hazardous chemicals.

http://www.brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/2006-07/06-074.html

Does it also regulate foodstuffs?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 08:11:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, hence Miguel's good point re: REACH.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 08:12:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think this is the original GAO report.

http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/useftp.cgi?IPaddress=162.140.64.21&filename=d07449t.txt& amp;directory=/diskb/wais/data/gao

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 07:44:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
as 100% of foodstuffs travel from (eg) ships out to shops and from there into our (or animals') stomachs;

1.3% is held back and checked for various contaminants.

Is it 1.3% of all food products? 1.3% of all shipments? or 1.3% of the contents of each shipment? That makes a difference to your ability to detect contamination and recall contaminated food.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 06:50:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Doesn't a spate of dead pets counts as evidence that the screening of food imports is flawed?

Sometimes, as here, mathematical precision seems somewhat incidental to the story.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 06:44:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I submit pet food is not screened like human food.

I am not convinced that screening more than 1.3% of the imports is necessary for good quality control.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2007 at 06:47:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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