Ben England and Rick Quinn, whose clients leap over regulatory barriers with help from the bevy of consultants and attorneys at their aptly named FDAImports.com, are not mincing their words about claims that more outbreaks are being linked to imported foods.
“FDA and CDC are so off the mark here and FDA knows it,” says England, who chairs FDAImports and its Benjamin L. England & Associates legal arm. “That’s a travesty. They know better but they are hustling for money.”
Quinn, a partner in the firm, says when increased consumption of foreign food, inspection rates, and documented histories of “real” food safety risks are all taken into account, concerns about contaminated food are “a non-event.”
Both were reacting to a report earlier this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that pointed to an uptick in outbreaks associated with foreign foods shipped into the U.S.
CDC presented its finding at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, which met in Atlanta. The public health agency said that from 2005 to 2010, imported foods from 15 countries were associated with 39 outbreaks that caused 2,348 illnesses.
Seventeen of those outbreaks occurred during the last two years of the study period. Contaminated food items included fish, spices and fresh and dried peppers. Forty-five percent of the contaminated foods were from Asia.
But England and Quinn criticize the CDC for failing to take into account the massive increase in the volume of food imports. Americans are eating more than twice as much food from foreign countries now as they did in 1998. About one out of every five bites of food an American takes originates in foreign soil or water.
And food imports increased by 23 percent during that five-year period covered by the CDC study, and imported food now has a 70 percent share of the American seafood market and a 35 percent share of the fresh produce market.
That’s why England and Quinn think it’s unfair for federal officials to equate a quantitative increase in imports with a generalization that imported food has become more dangerous.
They also point out that only one of the 10 worst food safety outbreaks in the last 10 years involved foreign foods. (Mexican cantaloupe)
Quinn acknowledges that only about two percent of the food imported to the U.S. is actually inspected at the border, but doubts people want to “live in a police state in which food safety inspectors wait at the docks to inspect everything.”
He says inspections are the product of budget and logistical decisions at FDA. Quinn says inspections are “onerous” and will become “more onerous” as costs are transferred to consumers through new fee proposals.
England worked for FDA for 17 years before going into private practice. Quinn is an expert in regulatory compliance and risk unique to FDA-regulated products. He also manages their office in Qingdao, China where they are known as “Export ToUsa.com.cn.”
The Food Safety Modernization Act makes provision for FDA to designate so-called “third party” auditors to conduct foreign inspections of companies wanting to export food to the U.S. The new law is in the process of being implemented.