Eat your vegetables

Editorial
Eat your vegetables

My mom used to get after me about not eating all the vegetables on my plate. The admonition that “it’s good for you” always sounded like a pretty weak sales pitch to me. To this day, in fact, I’ve got a particular aversion to cauliflower — you couldn’t pay me to eat that stuff.

It’s ironic, then — although I hardly feel in an “I told you so” mood — that some vegetables right now are most assuredly not good for you. Specifically, three people recently died, and hundreds have been poisoned, by green onions imported from Mexico and sold primarily in Pennsylvania.

This wasn’t exactly what the Bioterrorism Act Regulations issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov) were meant to monitor, although the public will certainly find some level of reassurance that these rules officially go into effect this month, during the holiday overeating season.

Although the Act was developed in reaction to threats against the food supply by terrorist groups, the sad reality is that food poisoning is becoming more prevalent due to the increasing popularity of fresh produce in American households. The demand by health-conscious Americans for fresh fruits and vegetables year-round has outpaced the supply of such foods from the usual sources; as a result, more produce is being imported from countries with substandard sanitary conditions.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, produce is usually the last place inspectors look for food-borne illnesses. Citing statistics from the FDA, the Times notes that “less than 2% of the produce that crosses the border is inspected for disease-causing bacteria.”

In the wake of the green onion contamination, the FDA immediately announced plans to step up its authority to require “domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture/ process, pack or hold food for human or animal consumption in the U.S. [to] register with the FDA.”

Yes, these regulations will add an additional level of bureaucracy to an already unwieldy number of supply chain security measures, but inevitably such restrictions seem to be the price that we pay for living in a democracy. And while terrorism remains an ever-present threat, protecting the food supply from any threats is an even bigger concern and a constant challenge for producers and shippers of food products.

Case in point: A single instance of mad cow disease found in dog food produced in Canada caused the U.S. government to suspend all imports of Canadian beef earlier this year, reportedly costing Canada’s economy millions of dollars a day in lost revenue. Although none of the contaminated beef made its way into human food, and it’s not even known whether dogs can contract mad cow disease, the FDA is hardly inclined to take any chances with the nation’s food supply.

The Bioterrorism Act regulations go into effect on December 12, and as our legal columnist James Calderwood points out in, Terror in the Pantry, maintaining a healthy food supply will require a strict adherence to the FDA’s rules.

“Depending on the readiness of all parties involved — the FDA, U.S. Customs, the food industry and supply chain partners — we could face serious bottlenecks at the U.S.-Canada border starting December 12,” says Jack Rafferty, managing director, trade & regulatory services, with Canadian third-party logistics provider PBB Global Logistics (www.pbb.com).

To reduce the incidence of those bottlenecks, Rafferty suggests shippers follow these common sense guidelines:

  • Ensure your carriers are prepared.
  • Confirm in advance all Harmonized Tariff System classifications and FDA product codes, which are on file with your Customs broker.
  • Detail your shipment invoices carefully.
  • Try to ship full loads of a single food product of the same size and with the same packaging.
  • Plan ahead — the FDA will allow prior notice up to five days in advance of shipment.

The FDA’s quick reaction to health scares this year are illustrative that the agency takes its watchdog role seriously and will diligently protect our food supply.

For my part, I plan to visit a wonderful Chinese restaurant whose specialty is Mongolian pork, a dish prepared with green onions. But I’m still not going to eat any cauliflower.

Dave Blanchard
editor-in-chief

All of us here at Logistics Today wish our readers good health and prosperity throughout the new year, and our prayers and best wishes go out to all military personnel stationed here and overseas.

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December, 2003

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