Clinton wants ban on unsafe food imports
March 4, 1998
The bill sought by Clinton would ban imports of unsafe fruits and vegetables
Web posted at: 10:28 a.m. EST (1528 GMT)
In this story:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton is expected to make a
new push Wednesday for legislation to ban imports of fruits
and vegetables from overseas sources that do not meet U.S.
With imports now accounting for almost 40 percent of fruit
consumed in the United States, consumer groups have expressed
concern about outbreaks of cyclospora, E. coli and other
food-borne diseases linked to unsanitary conditions.
To explain the Safety of Imported Food Act, the president was
to be joined at a White House news conference by Vice
President Al Gore, several Democratic senators, senior U.S.
Agriculture Department (USDA) officials and Deputy
Commissioner Michael Friedman of the Food and Drug
"They want to give this a very high profile and refocus
attention on this whole issue," said a food industry source
familiar with the event. "By having it at the White House, it
kicks it up another notch."
The USDA regulates meat and poultry, while the FDA has
authority over fruits, vegetables and processed food.
A U.S. outbreak of hepatitis A was traced to Mexican strawberries last April
As part of the FDA's border inspections, employees do visual
spot checks and send some produce to laboratories where it is
tested for bacteria. Foods that fail inspection are
According to the FDA, more than $3 billion is spent in the
United States each year on medical care related to
Last October, Clinton ordered the FDA to develop a plan to
halt imports of unsafe fruits and vegetables. He also asked
the USDA to create guidelines for farmers to prevent food
contamination, and asked the USDA and FDA to help other
countries improve their food-safety standards.
But industry critics contend the FDA already has the power to
halt unsafe food imports.
They say the Clinton administration, which still hopes to win
fast-track authority from Congress to negotiate trade agreements, is trying to quell congressional concerns about the nation's food supply.
Under fast-track authority rules, trade deals, once negotiated, would have to be voted on quickly and without amendment by Congress. Clinton's opponents have claimed that such trade deals lower barriers to food-borne diseases.
In July 1996, Guatemalan raspberries contaminated with
cyclospora sickened hundreds of consumers in the United
States and Canada.
Last April, more than 179 U.S. schoolchildren were sickened
with hepatitis A after eating strawberries imported from
Mexico. That outbreak was prominently featured in television ads produced by U.S. labor unions to try to defeat fast-track legislation.
"This is an outgrowth of the fast-track debate from last
year," said Kelly Johnston, a lobbyist for the National Food
Processors Association. "This bill has more to do with
political science than food science."
The administration's budget proposal for fiscal 1999 contains
an extra $74 million dedicated to food safety issues,
including about $25 million to pay 250 new FDA fruit and
Correspondent Holly Firfer and Reuters contributed to this report.