November 7/Global Insight -- After a series of scares over the safety of imported food and goods, the inspection regime is set to be overhauled. President George W. Bush proposed tougher inspection rules yesterday and broader powers for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to recall unsafe products.

He said, "For many years, we have relied on a strategy based on identifying unsafe products at the border. The problem is that the growing volume of products coming into our country makes this approach increasingly unreliable."

Media investigations have revealed that inspection facilities are badly under-resourced and that only a tiny fraction of goods arriving in the country are tested properly. Under the new plans, the FDA would be empowered to reach agreements with exporting countries that would require standards are met before foods can be exported. Incentives would also be introduced for importers to follow strong safety practices, as well as funding assistance for other countries' domestic inspections.

Significance: It is clear that there are deficiencies in the current inspection system, and that improvements are required to bolster consumer confidence. However, the fine print of the proposals will be watched closely by importers, who are concerned that trade could be impeded unnecessarily.

From the November 19, 2007, Prepared Foods e-Flash