The New York Times last week reported on Japan’s tough new ways to ensure the safety of food imports from China. The results look promising.


Japan tests imported food in Japan and also screens the food producers in China. According to the Times:

The Japanese have developed tough approaches for ensuring the quality of Chinese imports, particularly food – in part by far more rigorous testing of its imported food than in the United States. But the innovation getting the most American attention is Japan’s system for screening Chinese producers even before they ship their merchandise to Japan.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee thinks the Japanese system holds promise for the US, as well:
Citing the Food and Drug Administration, the House report described Japan’s model as the most realistic one for protecting American consumers. “The Japanese system of regulating Chinese food imports does appear to offer better control than that currently used by F.D.A.,” it concluded. Says the Times:

Japan tests 10 percent of all food it imports, while the US tests less than one percent. They take samples of food, grind them up in great big blenders, and test them for pesticides, antibiotics, and other chemicals. And last year they found more than 1500 samples that violated standards, out of the more than 200,000 tested.

On the October 5 release of the Committee’s findings, Representative Bart Stupak, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, announced “Other countries have found methods for keeping out unsafe foods. For example, by sampling and testing 15 times the number of shipments we do, Japan has succeeded in protecting its consumers against tainted food imports from China. If the Japanese government can sample and test 15 times the number of shipments we do, at the very minimum, our government can ensure that FDA has the resources necessary to increase testing and sampling of those imports that even Chinese exporters view as risky.”
In addition to the far more aggressive food testing in Japan, corporations may only import food from companies specially licensed to produce food to Japanese standards. The Times found:

Currently, 45 Chinese companies are licensed to produce spinach for sale in Japan. The Chinese producers must grow all their spinach on their own plots and not buy any from other producers. This greatly reduces the chance of dangerous pesticides getting into shipments, Japanese officials say.

While China has licensed exporters before, this system is more stringent, Japanese and American officials say, in part because the Japanese health ministry helps to enforce it by allowing in products only from licensed companies. By contrast, the United States, with its more unrestrained free-market approach, allows importers to disregard China’s licensing system.
Imported food does cost more in Japan than it does in the U.S., although many factors—particularly Japan’s outdated food distribution system—contribute to that extra cost. Does the higher level of mandatory testing add some cost? Certainly, a little. Is food security and safety worth it? I think so.
A more comprehensive inspection system – at U.S. ports and on the ground in exporting countries – would go far to restoring American consumers’ faith in imported food, toys and other products. If justifiably concerned consumers worry that no one seems to be able to keep dangerous foods and products off the store shelves and reduce their spending as a result, the over all cost to the U.S. economy could be far higher.
Or people could just decide to “buy at home,” although the home grown goods cost more. Look in your local area for the local producers who provide an alternative to the imports in your grocery store.