New U.S. trade deals threaten food safety - report
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration may be jeopardizing consumers as it presses Congress to approve free-trade agreements with countries with dubious food-safety records, a new report warned on Wednesday.
"Passage of the pending (deals) would elevate, not lessen, the threat to the safety of the U.S. food supply," said Global Trade Watch, an anti-globalization watchdog group.
"Contrary to what consumers believe, the vast majority of imported foods that end up on the dinner plates of U.S. consumers is unexamined and untested," it added.
Some critics of President George W. Bush's trade agenda, such as Global Trade Watch, believe the desire for ever-greater commerce has trumped safety concerns and led to an unhealthy reliance on foreign regulatory systems that, as the group says, "are simply not up to the task."
The report comes as the Bush administration presses Congress to approve agreements it has negotiated with Peru, Panama, Colombia, and South Korea.
But it also coincides with a wave of public concern about the safety of imports, from toys to toothpaste.
"As clearly permitted under (World Trade Organization) rules, we routinely employ a number of important tools, in a trade-consistent way, to safeguard America's food supply," said Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office.
Hamel said the trade agreements will preserve the United States' ability to take regulatory steps to protect public and animal health. "Under WTO rules, such measures are not considered impermissible non-tariff barriers," she said.
The United States has already introduced new testing for banned antibiotics for Chinese seafood imports. President George W. Bush has established a new senior-level panel, which is due to provide recommendations in 60 days on how to improve U.S. screening and response for imports.
U.S. inspectors already are stretched as food imports grow. In 2006, a record $1.9 trillion in foreign goods poured into the United States.
The Food and Drug Administration, which conducts some U.S. food inspections, inspects only about 1 percent of the imported goods under its purview that enter the country each year.
Global Trade Watch is especially worried about the import of seafood from Peru, Panama and Colombia.
The deals with Peru and Panama have perhaps the best chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Congress.
The agreement with Colombia is expected to encounter serious resistance due to that country's record on human rights. Some lawmakers oppose the deal with South Korea, by far the largest of the set, because they believe it hurts the U.S. auto industry.
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