U.S. at Risk for Foodborne Attack

Experts point to vulnerabilities in food imports and regulations.

Chinese meat processor Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. agreed to buy Smithfield Foods Inc. for approximately $4.72 billion. Overseas meat producers are subject to strict U.S. inspections every year.

Chinese meat processor Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. agreed to buy Smithfield Foods Inc. for approximately $4.72 billion. Overseas meat producers are subject to strict U.S. inspections every year.

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"It was all because of paranoia," he adds. "Those are the kind of food security issues that worry me."

Reliance on foreign food raises the chances of U.S. exposure to an outbreak. But foreign investment, like the potential Chinese purchase of Smithfield, also raises the safety bar worldwide.

"China has a large hog production industry, so it doesn't surprise me that they're interested in our side of things," Bickett-Weddle says. "Other countries know that our standards are so much higher than [theirs]. It's an educational process as well: How they [can] apply that to their own countries."

The Smithfield purchase would not change food safety in the U.S. "one iota," says Hurd. "If anything, it's going to get better as our friends at USDA will crack down even further."

The U.S. currently does not import meat products from China, he says, adding a warning of the dangers of too many oversight policies.

"Be careful about any regulations that we add to the U.S. food system – that they are truly beneficial, because they're going to cost more," he adds. "Be careful to do risk analysis to see if this thing is really going to reduce the public risk."

"We're not going to wake up tomorrow and have problems, but it's a gradual creep we don't realize is going on," he says.

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