Agricultural Economics Department


Date of this Version



Cornhusker Economics, April 13, 2022


Copyright © 2022 University of Nebraska


The safety of food imports continues to be in the spotlight. Globally, each year, contaminated food causes almost 1 in 10 people to fall ill and 420 thousand people to die (WHO, 2017). Protecting consumers from unsafe foods is complicated by the increased role of international trade in our food system. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that disease outbreaks associated with imported food increased from 1996 to 2014, with fish and produce being the main culprits (Gould et al., 2017). For example, in 2019, two separate cases of tuna from Vietnam were found to have sickened over 60 people in the United States (FDA, 2020), and two years before, over 40 people were sickened by an outbreak of histamine poisoning in France caused by tuna imported from Reunion Island (Velut et al., 2019). Although increased scrutiny at the border has the laudable goal of protecting health, food import rejections may be subject to pressure for import protection. Given that border inspections are limited, if food inspections are directed to products that threaten the domestic industry, they may not be optimally targeting products that threaten domestic health. In the article titled “Something Fishy in Seafood Trade? the Relation between Tariff and non-Tariff Barriers” recently published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, we ask whether the application of food import rules has been influenced by demand for protection.