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Jeremy Haft Headshot

In the Dangerous Kitchen

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America is in dire peril when it comes to our food and drug supply. We're connected in one long chain with China, yet neither of us can effectively police quality. In the U.S., the FDA's mission is still reactive. With food, it lurches from outbreak to outbreak but hasn't the mandate to prevent them. And as we saw with the salmonella outbreak from peanut powder, our supply chain is opaque and our enforcement system cumbersome, preventing the rapid response required to track pathogens back to their source and prevent deaths.

With drugs, the FDA's inspection regime is far too puny to police all the ingredients we import from China and other countries. They can inspect just a small fraction of imports.

Meanwhile, China's food and drug supply is so fragmented, no amount of Chinese government regulation or policing can solve the problem. There are literally millions of small producers that provide the inputs to the food and drug supply. Governing them is impossible. Executing wrong-doers has zero effect. Risk is baked into the system. Every player in the long chain that handles the goods and materials adds risk. So you don't necessarily need to have bad actors like you had with the milk powder from Sanlu to get defective product. Remember Mattel? They fell prey to subcontractors that were abiding by Chinese standards for lead paint, not American standards.

Given that more and more of the inputs to our food and drug supply are coming from China -- some estimate over 80% of the ingredients we use in our medicines -- as consumers, we face a clear and present danger to our health and safety. The U.S. and China are two ends of one chain. We need to fix this problem together.