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CDC food import outbreak concerns a “non-event” – import law specialist

By Mark Astley , 27-Mar-2012

US import law specialist FDAImports.com has played down an apparent increase in import-implicated foodborne disease outbreaks - describing the situation as a “non-event.”

Earlier this month, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement that suggested a surge in import-related outbreaks since 2005 – a claim the US-based law firm has refuted.

Between 2005 and 2010, 39 import-associated foodborne disease outbreaks were recorded by the CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System, which collects information on foodborne outbreaks from state, local and public health agencies.

Of these 17 occurred in 2009 and 2010 – representing nearly 50% of the total and suggesting a surge during the two year period.

FDAImports.com principal Rick Quinn told FoodQualityNews.com that the CDC has failed to consider the huge increase in imports in the five years between 2005 and 2010.

“Non-event”

“When you compare the increased consumption of imported food in the US to the number of import-related outbreaks, there is no problem because there is no increase in risk,” said Quinn.

He added that in 2005, 7m shipments of food products entered the US. By 2010, shipments had increased to 8.6m – a 23% increase in five years.

The latest research estimates that around 16% of all food eaten in the US is imported.

“Nine of the last 10 significant foodborne outbreaks in the US originated in domestically produced food stuffs.”

“Cantaloupes killed 30 people in the US in 2011. I’m fairly sure the cantaloupes were processed in Colorado, not Mexico. In 2008, nine people died and hundreds were sickened after eating Salmonella-tainted peanuts. Are we going to argue that they weren’t from Georgia?” Quinn added sarcastically.

“Look at the amount of imported foods consumed over the last five years. It strikes me that we have a non-event here.”

Easy headlines

US food imports grew from $41bn in 1998 to $78bn in 2007, according to a report by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS).

Considering the increase, Quinn added that an increased focus on import food safety was inevitable as a result of this huge shipment increase.

“There is an increase in imports, and so enforcement is focussed on them. It is easy to come up with as a headline.”

“If you are a police officer looking to arrest one person, but you instead arrest a group of people, you are going to report that back,” added Quinn.

Despite the report suggestions, the CDC added that it is too early to say for certain whether the increase represents a trend.

“We saw an increased number of outbreaks due to imported foods during recent years, and more types of foods from more countries causing outbreaks,” said CDC epidemiologist Hannah Gould PhD.

“As our food supply becomes more global, people are eating foods from all over the world, potentially exposing them to germs from all corners of the world, too.”

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