Policing The Food Supply
Clinton calls for more food inspections, tougher safety standards
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Oct. 2) -- Amid growing public concern about tainted food imports, President Bill Clinton announced a $24 million plan today to boost Food and Drug Administration inspections and bar crops from countries that won't follow basic sanitation standards.
"With these efforts, we can make sure that no fruits and vegetables cross our borders, enter our ports or reach our dinner tables without meeting the same strict standards as those grown here in America," Clinton said. "Our food safety system is the strongest in the world, and that's how it's going to stay." (448K wav sound)
The administration will seek $24 million for the new inspections in response to an increase in diseased and tainted fruit making its way to U.S. markets. And while the emphasis is on food imports, U.S. farmers will face new sanitation guidelines, too.
Clinton also directed his secretaries of health and human services and agriculture to work with farmers and wholesalers to develop what he called the first-ever safety standards for the growing, processing, shipping and selling of fruits and vegetables.
Parents, Clinton said, "deserve the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the food they set before their children is safe."
To a reporter's question, Clinton dismissed criticism that the added inspections were unnecessary and would complicate trade with other nations.
Said Clinton, "It seems to me that we have no higher responsibility than to protect the health and safety of our citizens ... We have millions of people who get sick every year. And we're not trying to unfairly target foreign producers of food into our markets. We don't ask them to meet any standards that we don't meet.
"I don't want it to complicate the trade environment, but I'm not interested in trade in things that will make the American people sick," Clinton added. (384K wav sound)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture already conducts some inspections overseas. Under the new program, sources told CNN, the Food and Drug Administration will create new inspection teams to monitor quality and production standards both in the United States and in other countries.
The FDA concedes that its inspection programs have not keep pace with the need.
Food imports to the U.S. have doubled to 2.2 million shipments a year in the past five years, while FDA inspections have been cut in half because of budget cutbacks. Thirty-eight percent of fruits and 12 percent of vegetables in U.S. markets come from other countries.
One of the largest recent disease outbreaks associated with tainted produce involved the parasite cyclospora, which sickened an estimated 1,400 Americans who ate Guatemalan raspberries last spring.
The government says that other pathogens linked to outbreaks in fresh produce include:
Even before the announcement, a Mexican agriculture official criticized the plan as a ruse to limit Mexican imports for economic reasons.
"It is very clear to us that behind all this are economic interests which want to prevent Mexican vegetables from entering the U.S.," said Luis Cardenas, who represents an agriculture group in the western Mexican state of Sinaloa, a big tomato-producing region.
CNN's John King contributed to this report.
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Thursday Oct. 2, 1997
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