According to the General Accounting Office, there are an estimated 81 million cases of food borne illnesses and as many as 9,100 related deaths each year. The two federal agencies that are primarily responsible for monitoring food imports are the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the HHS’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FSIS inspects domestic and imported meat, poultry and eggs to ensure safety, wholesomeness, and accurate labeling while the FDA inspects all other domestic and imported food products. While imports are significantly increasing, the FSIS and FDA are inspecting fewer food products. For example, the FDA inspects a very small percentage of all imported food products under its jurisdiction.
The May 14, 1998, hearing was the first phase of an in-depth investigation into the safety of food imports. The investigation is focusing on the adequacy of procedures and systems used by the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Health & Human Services Department’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure the safety of food imports into the United States. At the May 14th hearing, the Subcommittee received testimony from a Food Science Professor from the University of Maine regarding the seriousness of foodborne diseases. Additionally, at this hearing, the GAO presented the results of their nearly year-long investigation of the current food import system conducted at Chairman Collins’ request. The GAO presented a startling review of the system. The Subcommittee also heard testimony from a former Food and Drug Administration Consumer Safety Inspector who gave a candid account of his experience with the food inspection system.