Fast Track Vote Could Decide If This Trade Plague Multiplies
By William J. Gill

As the House prepared to vote on Fast Track trade authority for the president to usher in the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a big killer cat popped out of the bag at a Congressional hearing on terrorism.

I accidentally tuned in the hearing on C-SPAN while driving up to Capitol Hill and later got the transcript. Here was Rep. John Dingell, ranking Democrat on the Energy & Commerce Committee, questioning the Secretary of Health & Human Services, Tommy Thompson on one of Washington’s best kept secrets...

Dingell: “Mr. Secretary, food inspection officials in the state of New York have informed the staff that 80 percent of the rood recalls they issued last year were contaminated imported food....Is this a fair and a representative statement?”

Thompson: “I am not sure. I can tell you that last year we had over 372,000 individuals that suffered from food pathogens; 20,000 were hospitalized, 5,000 died from food poisoning in America, so it’s possible, but I’m not sure” (That 80 percent traced to imports applies nationally.)

Thompson conceded he had no information that refutes New York’s experience that 80 percent of the recalls were imported food. Indeed, he said: “It’s got to be imported food that I’ve the biggest concern about.”

The Secretary also testified his Food & Drug Administration inspectors could not begin to cope with inspections at the more than 300 ports of entry. Dingell noted the FDA “was inspecting about 8 percent of all food imports in 1992 rather than the seven-tenths of a percent it currently inspects.:

Thompson pointed out the FDA had only 150 inspectors to cover the 307 ports of entry. Moreover, he said he did not have authority over Department of Agriculture inspectors at 30 entry points. Dingell asked if it would be “helpful” for him to have this authority.

“There are some big trade issues involved in that,” Thompson replied. “I’ve inquired about that but there’s some big trade problems...”

Somewhat shocked, Dingell said: “You can’t control it and you’ve got a big trade issue. What are you telling us here?”

“Well, Congressman, all I can tell you is that the trade office (presumably the office of the president’s Trade Representative) has indicated to me that there would be some trade implications, some trade problems with it....”

In short, with 80 percent of 372,000 food poisoning cases caused by imports — i.e., 300,000 with 4,000 dead in one year—our government looks the other way in order to pursue its free-trade policy!