Consumers Want Better Border Safety

Articles
March 23, 2010

Consumers Want Better Border Safety

An overwhelming majority of consumers (91%) feel the U.S. government doesn’t do enough to ensure that we the people receive safe foods, medicines, cosmetics and medical devices from abroad.

An overwhelming majority of consumers (91%) feel the U.S. government doesn’t do enough to ensure that we the people receive safe foods, medicines, cosmetics and medical devices from abroad.

An exclusive SupermarketGuru.com/The Lempert Report Quick Poll also found that people have changed their purchase behavior because of safety concerns about tainted products from abroad:

  • Three-quarters of U.S. consumers curb their purchases of imports to different degrees. Just 24% say safety concerns have prompted, “No difference, if it appeals to me, I buy it.” But a collective 76% said otherwise—34% buy nothing from a number of different countries, 27% buy nothing from China, and 15% buy U.S. only.


Consumers’ #1 suggestion for the government to ensure greater safety was “more frequent inspections” (37%).  This was followed by: more cooperation/transparency among suppliers in different nations (27%); quicker disclosure recalls in case of contamination or product tainting (17%); more traceability (17%)’ and we’re fine as is (2%).

What prompted our survey was the recent disclosure by FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg that U.S. border inspectors will soon begin to use new technology to spot risky products. The FDA move—as well as the obvious consumer caution—is rooted in recalls of contaminated pet food, toothpaste and other products from China. 

For all the consumer concern, however, do people have a realistic idea of the scale of shipments coming in and how tough it is to prevent the entry of tainted products?

When The Lempert Report asked how many shipments a year of foods, medicines, cosmetics and medical devices come into the U.S. (the correct estimate is 20 million), fewer than one-third got it right: 65% thought 40 million, 31% said 20 million, and 2% said 10 million (2% no answer).

When we asked the percentage of border shipments that are actually inspected (the correct estimate is less than 1%), fewer than half got it right; 47% gave this response.

When we asked how much of the food we eat originates from abroad (the correct estimate is 15% to 20%), just 15% of survey takers got it right.

Everyday Americans want to feel safer in the food choices they make. As long as greed and human error lead to deadly contaminations, we need as fail-safe a system as possible, so we applaud the government effort. At the same time, we urge greater collaboration and transparency in the import process. Trading partners must recognize that once trust is gone, their markets may vanish too.