U.S. Ranks Among Top 10 Safety Violators; But What’s the Context?

A report released in early August by the global food safety monitoring firm Food Sentry puts the U.S. among the top 10 countries exporting “violative” food items—that is, items found to be in violation of the inspecting country’s regulatory scheme, whether due to pesticide contamination, pathogens, unsanitary conditions, or other problems.

The top 10 sources of violative products in 2013 were, in order of frequency: India, China, Mexico, France, U.S., Vietnam, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Turkey, and Spain. “Illegal pesticide contamination” was the most common food safety violation, making up a third of all incidents.

“Food safety violations are nothing new,” said Food Sentry senior intelligence analyst Zak Solomon in a statement. “They’ve just been receiving a lot of attention lately, and rightly so. We import from every single one of the countries in the top 10, and, in fact, the U.S. is among the most common violators. Clearly understanding food safety from a global perspective is immensely important.”

But Mike Doyle, PhD, regents professor of microbiology and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, says that the report lacks important context. “I think the flaw is the lack of a denominator. The United States is the world’s leading food exporter overall. Other countries, like Brazil, might lead us in some areas, but in total the U.S. is number one. If the report looked at food safety violations on a per-volume basis, it would have a better number for comparison.”

(In 2013, the European Union for the first time surpassed the U.S. as the world’s leading exporter of agricultural and food products, according to a June report from the European Commission, but the Food Sentry report used data on individual EU nations rather than the EU as a whole.)

According to the report, 23.5 percent of the violative products were seafood, while 20 percent were vegetables, and 13.8 percent were fruits. “More than 90 percent of our seafood comes from other countries,” Dr. Doyle observes. “China is a leading exporter of seafood, and we know that they use a lot of antibiotics in their seafood as well as having issues with Salmonella in aquaculture.”

In upcoming reports, Food Sentry says it will explore the leading food safety violators in greater detail, starting with India, a major source of foods for U.S. consumers.


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