Problems With Imported Ingredients

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The same food safety net that couldn't catch poisoned pet food ingredients from China has a much bigger hole.

Billions of dollars' worth of foreign ingredients that Americans eat in everything from salad dressing to ice cream get virtually no attention from overwhelmed inspectors. That's what the Associated Press has discovered in reviewing federal trade and food data.

Well before contaminated shipments from China killed 16 cats and dogs and sickened thousands more, government food safety task forces worried about the potential human threat. That's because ingredients are hard to quarantine and can go virtually everywhere in a range of brand products.

Because these oils, spices, flours, gums and the like haven't been blamed for killing humans, it's buyer beware. And as the pet deaths showed, that system is far from secure.

Meanwhile, the ingredient trade is booming, particularly since 2001, when the September eleventh attacks focused attention on the security of the nation's food supply.

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