Monday, January 25, 2010


Every country has a legitimate right to protect its citizens from sub-standard and unsafe foods originating from external sources and necessary surveillance regime is supposed to pre-empt such imports. Unscrupulous elements amongst the trading community may indulge in imports of foods that do not conform to the technical standards that are prevalent in the country. Since global trade involves extensive transportation from the exporting country to the importing destinations, sufficient precaution is called for before the consignments are shipped. According to an estimate consumers in some of the western countries have to depend on many food products which travel on an average more than 2000-2500 km before reaching the ultimate sales point. International Standards Organization, WTO, WHO, FAO etc are in the field to evolve globally acceptable standards for inter country trading and many countries do adopt such bench marks while striking export deals. There are also bilateral agreements between two countries or regional groups that set the standards for trade amongst them.

Most developing countries export their agricultural commodities with practically no value addition to developed nations which do not produce adequate foods for domestic consumption. In contrast high value added materials and industrial products find their way in the reverse direction. Countries like China, India, Brazil and South Africa have a fairly well established safety monitoring regime and products originating from these countries can be expected to be reliable and safe for consumption. Of course some times, there could be black sheep amidst the trading community who might default on quality and safety but the entire country should not be viewed as undependable and unreliable.

USA, the sole super power that exists to day, seems to be under the delusion that it is the only country concerned about safety of foods and quality of most of the foods imported into the country is not reliable. Probably some one has to remind this super power that its safety surveillance agency, the FDA, does not enjoy a reputation that can be considered flattering because of its failure to safeguard American foods in the domestic market. There have been frequent recall of pathogen tainted tomatoes, jalapeno, spinach, peanuts, beef products from the market and this is nothing but a failure of its vested responsibility. How it can improve the safety of foods contracted for import by the American buyers, is at best a "symbolism" or "tokenism" to impress its consumers. Frequent rejections of imports from developing countries at various ports of entry on flimsy grounds, as determined by the same FDA, cause severe economic hardship to many exporters though there could be some instances of deliberate fraud.

Against such a background it is ridiculous for this agency to take a high moral ground and claim that it "plans to work collaboratively with international governments and regulators to harmonize regulatory standards, establish new guidelines for food safety, and improve product handling safety protocols".
According to a recent report FDA has set up its facilities, manned by Americans, in 10 countries including China, India, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, and several European countries. It is not clear whether the national regulatory agencies in these countries have surrendered their responsibility of monitoring food safety to the FDA. It is claimed that its purported presence is just "to provide an additional point of control for helping these local agencies meet U.S. safety standards and avoid food contamination and other problems". Because of numerous food contamination outbreaks within their own country the American regulators seem to be thinking that establishing permanent international offices in other countries would "improve their ability to operate effectively", whatever that means..
By opening its offices in foreign countries, staffed with arm-chair bureaucrats, FDA cannot accomplish any thing, let alone control the quality of foods made in the countries concerned. Trade must be based on mutual trust and not by bullying the countries which survive on their exports. Imagine the chaos that will ensue if all importing countries start setting up their offices in the sourcing countries to protect their citizens from imaginary dangers!


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