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  • Eyes on Trade is a blog by the staff of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW) division. GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you! GTW director Lori Wallach's initial post explains it all.

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November 21, 2017

Import Alert: Careful What You Eat During Thanksgiving

Trade Deals Like NAFTA Have Led to a Surge of Imported Food, Threatening Food Safety in America

There’s a good chance that some of the food you will eat during Thanksgiving was produced outside the United States. In fact, about 50 percent of fresh fruit and 94 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported. But even though Americans are consuming more imported foods today than ever – largely due to trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – the vast majority is never inspected before it reaches your plate.

Since 1993, U.S. food imports from Mexico and Canada have tripled, increasing from 10.6 million to 32.2 million metric tons. During the same time, U.S. food imports from the rest of the world grew as well, but only at half the rate.

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While the average American diet relies more and more on imported food, safety regulations and food inspections have not kept up. Only one percent of most food, including dairy, seafood and fruit, are inspected by federal regulators. Less than ten percent of meat and poultry is inspected.

Yet, “trade” agreement rules, like those in NAFTA, require us to import meat and poultry from any processing facility in any country that is deemed to have “equivalent” safety standards, even if core parts of U.S. food safety requirements are not met. Before NAFTA, only meat and poultry from individual processing plants in Canada and Mexico that met U.S. safety and quality standards – and that were certified as doing so by U.S inspectors – could be sold here. NAFTA not only required us to allow imports produced under the other countries’ differing standards, but required us to accept meat from any and all processing plants in Mexico and Canada that were certified as complying with those countries’ domestic standards, not necessarily U.S. standards.

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office describes the federal oversight of food safety as an area of “high risk for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or most in need of transformation.” Their 2016 report says one of the top obstacles to food safety is that “a substantial and increasing portion of the U.S. food supply is imported, which stretches the federal government’s ability to ensure the safety of these foods.”

Unfortunately, things may get worse. President Trump has proposed a budget cut of $83 million to the food safety programs administered by the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees 80 percent of the U.S. food supply.

Recent polling shows that food safety is one of the top issues voters are concerned about in the ongoing NAFTA renegotiation. That’s why a coalition of labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, and faith organizations representing over 12 million people has demanded that the renegotiated NAFTA require all imported food to meet U.S. safety standards and mandate more robust inspection. Plus, the groups are demanding that a NAFTA replacement restore the country-of-origin labels on meat that were eliminated in 2016 after the Canadian and Mexican governments successfully attacked the popular U.S. policy as an illegal trade barrier.

NAFTA’s food safety rules are a recipe for disaster. So as you sit down to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal, be careful what you eat!

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