By: Michele Wolfson
People are often outraged when they are charged a fine for bringing produce from foreign countries into the United States. Often, it is the case of a snack still left in a kid's knapsack after an international plane ride or a traveler wanting to bring a beloved cheese back to his or her own kitchen. Little do they know that these seemingly harmless acts are contributing factors to the rise in US food safety risks as well as the increase of destructive pests from overseas that are entering the country.
Homeland Security reassigned advanced scientists whose responsibility was to prevent invasive species from entering at the border to dealing with anti-terrorism burdens after the 9/11 attacks. These scientists say that the switch of duties cost the country billions of dollars of crop damage and produce from California and Florida were hit the hardest with harmful sprays due to lack of containing an overlooked pest explosion. Because so much focus was put on anti-terrorist attacks, food safety issues and pest control was essentially pushed to the side. While it can't be argued that protecting the US from terrorist attacks should be of the highest priority, the result of ignoring the country's exposure to new harmful insects and infections has led to a high increase in the contamination of produce.
Consumers are suffering the worst consequences since a large portion of the fruits and vegetables that we buy, whether they are Florida oranges or California wines are either infested with dangerous insects or pesticides and sadly, those issues are just the tip of the iceberg. Billions of dollars have been spent to eradicate insects and often it hasn't worked.
We live in a day and age where 1 in 6 American's gets sick from food borne illnesses and the increasing price of food is in direct correlation with its decreasing quality. It's hard to say if the damage that has been done by Homeland Security's reassignment is irreparable but they do recognize that they made a mistake. After many years of damage, they now understand that terrorist prevention should not debunk the importance of food safety. The government claims they are now taking actions to make corrective moves towards increasing security against more pests from entering the country.
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