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Contaminated Food Increases Calls for "Country of Origin" Labels

May 9, 2007

The head of a Minnesota farmers' group says recent cases of contaminated imported food, including pet food, show the country needs a better inspection system, and consumers need to know where their food comes from.

Since March, over 100 pet food brands have been recalled. The Food and Drug Administration only inspects 1 percent of imported food. That has lowered public confidence and raised questions about the safety of the food supply. Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union notes small amounts of the suspect chemical (melamine) have now also been detected in farmed fish and chicken feed.

“It's a public safety issue, especially when we only have the ability to inspect 1 percent of the imported food because of budgets in the country. One percent.”

Peterson reports that the feed, imported from China, was spiked with the chemical to make food appear to have a higher protein level. It's usually found in plastics and pesticides, and not approved for human consumption.

“What really grinds me on this one, as a farmer, is that, now, they're trying to screw around with the integrity and the quality and the safety of our food for a bottom-line profit motive. And, I think that really smacks of nothing but the worst kind of industry standards and ethics there is.”

Peterson believes the best way to protect consumers is to enact the "Country of Origin" food-labeling plan Congress passed five years ago. He says it has been delayed due to industry pressure. He adds that "Country of Origin" labeling was in the 2002 Farm Bill, but has been delayed, even though consumers and farmers favor it.

“Blocking it is the 'American Meat Institute.' Those multi-national companies own most of the processing. They say they can't make any money if they have to label where the food comes from. You've got some people I'd call 'Nervous Nellies' in Congress that don't want to vote for protection of family farmers and also consumers. And, it's all about bottom line and big business.”

He believes company profits shouldn't put the safety of consumers at risk. The labeling plan is now scheduled to take effect in September 2008. But, Peterson notes there are concerns it will be delayed again.

Jim Wishner/Eric Mack, Public News Service - MN