How About Some Chemical Waste With Your Fish?

Catfish dinner(Image: Catfish dinner via Shutterstock)

You might want to think twice about the food that you’re eating.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 48 million Americans get sick from food-borne viruses and diseases each year.

Of those 48 million Americans, 128,000 have to be hospitalized and an astonishing 3,000 die because of food-borne illnesses.

Somehow, the food industry and our government are still letting millions of citizens get sick each and every year from completely preventable food-borne illnesses.

The fact is that our food safety system is completely out of whack.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

For example, the US imports 3 billion pounds of meat each year. Of that 3 billion pounds, 85 million pounds is catfish that’s imported annually from Vietnam.

That Vietnamese catfish mostly comes from the Mekong River. And, according to the Economy in Crisis blog, each year 220,000 tons of industrial waste is dumped into the Mekong River.

That means that before the catfish are exported here, they’re swimming – and bottom feeding, which is what catfish do – in a river filled with toxic chemicals. Yum.

The Vietnamese catfish story is just one example of how broken food safety is in the US today.

A major reason for that is an incredible lack of federal funding – also known as Republican austerity.

As the Economy in Crisis blog points out, the FDA has nowhere near the money it needs to keep Americans safe from tainted food.

In fact, the FDA only has the funding to inspect around 1 to 2 percent of all food that’s imported to the US.

So 98-99 percent of all food imported into the US is getting into our markets without any screening for possible food-borne viruses and diseases.

Back in 2010, Congress tried to do something about that.

In the wake of thousands of people getting sick from various food-borne illness outbreaks, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act.

That act was intended to give the FDA new powers – and more funding – to help prevent more potentially deadly outbreaks.

But as it turns out, while lawmakers may have passed that law, they haven’t put their money where their mouths are.

Back when the law was passed, the Congressional Budget Office said that the FDA would need at least $580 million between 2011 and 2015 to carry out all of the safety changes proposed in the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Fast-forward to today, and it turns out that Congress has given the FDA less than half of that $580 million.

Speaking about the lack of funding and the Food Safety Modernization Act, deputy FDA Commissioner Michael R. Taylor told The New York Times that, “We have good plans for moving forward. The problem is we don’t have the money.”

And as Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro told The Times, “If we keep shortchanging the FDA, it will continue to cost us billions of dollars a year to deal with food-borne illness.”

According to the Department of Agriculture, the costs of treatment for and lost income from food-borne illnesses total a whopping $15 billion per year.

So, not only is our out of whack food safety system failing to save lives, it’s also costing us billions and billions of dollars each year.

Something needs to change and it needs to change now.

First, Congress needs to give the FDA the funding it needs to inspect our food and to keep Americans safe. No “if’s,” “and’s” or “but’s.”

Second, we need to stop importing foods from countries that have even worse food safety systems than we do. Americans shouldn’t be eating toxic catfish from pollution-riddled rivers. It’s that simple.

Finally, we need to stop signing on to so-called free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that weaken the power of agencies like the FDA, and that increase our reliance on imported foods.

Only then will we be able to feel safe about the food that we’re putting into our bodies.