What is it (and do I care?)?
In our last newsletter,
we mentioned NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement, now over 7 years
old. We indicated that it caused us some real problems in ensuring food safety
when importing foods from other NAFTA countries. One country in particular.
Here’s the whole background story, in summary form, about why we’re
At the end of Desert Storm, President George Bush (pater)
announced that the “New World Order” was here. NAFTA is a part of what he
meant by the New World Order. Let’s see what that means to a significant
amount of our food supply . .
meshes with the new World Trade Organization, its Court of International Trade
and all the other U.N. trade organizations. These new entities are designed to
eventually create seamless trade rules for the whole world, a seemingly great
idea. NAFTA is our first taste of implementation. Are they doing what they said?
all, my mother used to say, “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what
you say.” Or, “the proof of the pudding’s in the eating.” But, enough
Let’s see what NAFTA does from a food safety
standpoint. A course description from a Harvard Law School curriculum brochure
speaks thusly of NAFTA’s Article 717: Control, Inspection and Approval
parties are required to compete control or inspection procedures as expeditiously
as possible and with regard to such procedures treat all like goods equivalently
regardless of origin. Specific guidelines are provided in this Article
relating to such procedures, i.e., information to be published, requirements for
responsible administrative body and necessary criteria.”
this “equivalently” standard has done in practice is to reduce
our food safety standards to the lowest common denominator. The USDA was hit in
1994. The FDA survived until Pres. Clinton’s 1997 Food Safety Act. Now both
agencies are equally limited by equivalency standards. What’s the result?
Well, the U.S. and Canada truly have practical equivalency and have had for
years. Our other NAFTA participant is Mexico. True equivalency? Let’s find out
. . . . .
implementing legislation made substantial amendments to U.S. meat, poultry and
live animal inspection laws to permit importation from NAFTA countries, which do
not comply with U.S. food safety laws. The USDA’s FSIS therefore only
“reinspects” a small sampling of imported meat and poultry to monitor the
effectiveness of the exporting nation’s pesticide residue testing. A couple of
years ago, the USDA had 74 import inspectors “inspecting” nearly 2.4 billion
pounds of imported meat & poultry annually at 100+ active locations. Each
inspector therefore “inspected” about 600,000 pounds of meat a week! Yeah,
sure they did! And the USDA doesn’t check for pesticides or unapproved
drugs; they can’t check for metals residue in the meat – even if it’s
reported! Why? No inspectors available to investigate. Getting the picture
yet?? NAFTA does not require member countries to maintain even a minimum
level of food safety standards. Standards higher than those set by the Codex
Alimentarius Committee in Rome (the U.N. food laws organization) are presumed
to constitute illegal trade barriers. Remember the World Trade Organization (WTO)
and it’s Court? Guess what? We have little sovereign control left over what we
require for imported food safety. The WTO’s Court of International Trade (CIT)
is the new judicial control over our imported food safety standards. We
aren’t! The CIT is now our “imported foods Supreme Court” and it certainly
isn’t in Washington, D.C. Seeking the lowest common denominator is now
the rule! The third world beckons us to join.
head lettuce and carrots from Mexico have pesticide residue violation (not
rejection, just violation) rates of 18.4%, 15.6% and 12.3% respectively. And
that’s only on the fruits and produce that’s actually inspected!
Strawberries imported from Mexico are 96% of all our strawberry imports.
to our Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “We are now importing 30 billion
tons of food a year . . . These imported foods are an increasing
proportion of our diet and often come from developing countries where food
hygiene and basic sanitation are less advanced.” (The writer has consulted
in agri-aquaculture in Mexico – field crops, shrimp, etc. and will agree this
accurately describes all but the largest agricultural and fishing coop
operations there. In many instances, there is no available local
sanitation or hygiene infrastructure.)
to Mexican Minister of Health, Sr. Jose Luis Flores L., “Food safety is in the
hands of people who desperately require training in basic food safety and
sanitation practices.” Prof. Eduardo Fernandez Escartin of the University of
Queretaro says, “We have industries possessing facilities that produce foods
using the most modern technologies and performing with very good hygiene
standards.” True. He also says “however, the same products may be
produced under primitive conditions which ignore even the most fundamental
sanitary practices.” I’ve also found this to be true. Guess what?
Products from both types of sources are often packed and shipped, mixed
together, by food consolidators or brokers! Since NAFTA started, imports of
carrots have grown 175%, strawberries 58%, peppers 84%, beans 60% and melons
101%. Wash all your veggies & fruit! Thoroughly!
All NAFTA food
safety inspections involve inspecting transport vehicles and their food cargo at
the border. Thereafter, the foods spread all over the U.S. and transit into
Canada, which has its own inspection problems somewhat similar to ours. The
border is the only “choke point”, so that’s the location, which interests
us the most.
the Otay Mesa border crossing (California entry) 2,000 to 2,500 trucks cross
each day. Four to five times more than in 1990. Other than random spot checks and “block busts” of 12 to
15 trucks, forget inspection! Referring to the “inspection” process, Sam
Longanecker, USDA Supervisor says it’s “like having dinner without
reservations” and Joyce Henderson of U.S. Customs says “It’s not container
by container. We can’t do container by container all day long.” Remember
our last newsletter? The inspection jobs doggone near impossible!
trouble are we in?
CPC International, Inc. vs. U.S. (July 8, 1996), Slip Op. 96-106,
the Court of International Trade overruled the U.S. Customs regarding the
manner in which it was interpreting the NAFTA marking rules. (Note that the
U.S. was sued in a court outside of the U.S. This is a loss of our
sovereign control, ceded by a treaty.)
WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade states that when the WTO’s
members develop and institute voluntary and mandatory product standards and when
they set procedures to determine if a product meets the standards, they must
not discriminate against imported products and must avoid creating unnecessary
obstacles to international trade. (Here, it depends on what the meaning
of “is” is!) The TBT Agreement affects all technical regulations, which
are not included in the parallel WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS)
Agreement such as quality, labeling, packaging and product content. The
Agreement encourages members:
To accept other members' standards as equivalent and
To use international standards and work toward harmonization
of standards and procedures. Lowest common denominator again?
foregoing will give you a solid idea of why the FDA and USDA can’t give you
the guarantee you’re used to for the safety of any foods coming in
under NAFTA. They want to and try hard, but they can’t. And state inspectors
certainly can’t cope with these volumes either. You can plan that
cross-border meats, fish and shellfish, vegetables and fruits will remain
essentially uninspected. The USDA,
FDA and states have neither the time (under NAFTA) nor the needed personnel. Not
to worry, they’ve been subjected to “equivalent” inspections before
crossing into the U.S., haven’t they?
We merely “reinspect” –
No real protection here!
You’re essentially on your own!
we emphasize that you should buy your range-fed proteins from local
farms and ranches and disinfect and wash all your fruits and veggies thoroughly!
EMBARCADERO PUBLISHING Editor