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FDA Unable to Inspect Foreign Ingredients

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingChina has shut down three companies linked to tainted products. Two were implicated in the deaths of dozens of pets in North America, while the third was tied to medicines sold in Panama that killed 94 people. President Bush is now setting up a cabinet-level panel to ensure that food imported into the U.S. is safe.

China has taken a series of steps in recent weeks aimed at improving its reputation on food and drug safety. The director of food safety in China again insisted today that 99 percent of its food exports are problem free. He also says the remaining one percent are typically sold to other countries through illegal channels.

Beijing has launched an aggressive effort to step up safety enforcement following reports of tainted seafood, toothpaste and dog food. But tainted seafood may just be the tip of the problem. How about the foreign ingredients that end up in many American foods?

Wheat gluten is no longer made in the United States. It's just one of many foreign compounds going into our food that the FDA is unable to inspect.

Chips, a sandwich, and cookie, washed down with apple juice. How much more American can you get? What's keeping the food fresh, chewy and free of mold, though, are ingredients that for the most part are no longer made in America.

Former FDA Associate Commissioner William Hubbard says, "Foreign countries like China have captured a huge amount of the ingredient market."

They're ingredients that recently have come to light. Wheat gluten from China, contaminated with melamine, ended up in pet food, sickening and killing pets. A seasoning in a snack food, the maker says, came contaminated with salmonella from China, causing illness in 60 people, mostly toddlers.

Experts worry it's the tip of the iceberg.

Hubbard says, "All of our foods contain various emulsifiers, stabilizers and preservatives. There is essentially no regulatory oversight in place for many of these ingredients."

And the American food industry has little choice but to buy them. Countries like China have undercut prices so much, most food ingredients are no longer produced domestically.

As for the American consumer, they won't get any help reading a label. Ingredients are not listed by their country of origin.

"Here's an apple juice; the label says it can come from China, Chile or Turkey. Now all of those are developing countries and I would worry that this had not been inspected before it was bottled and shipped to our stores," Hubbard said.

Today the FDA has about 300 inspectors to manage 13 million shipments of foreign products each year, but the agency does not have the authority to demand the food is safe, that the problem is caught, before it's put on a boat and sent here.

The USDA has that authority with meat.

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