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Clinton wants even more funding for food safety

Guatemalan raspberries infected with the parasite cyclospora were blamed in 1996 for making hundreds of people sick in the United States and Canada.  
December 28, 1997
Web posted at: 1:11 p.m. EST (1811 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Clinton administration will propose a significant increase in spending for food inspections and safety research in the draft budget he will present to Congress early next year.

As the result of a series of tainted-food scares, President Clinton is to seek an additional $71 million for food-safety programs at the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The increase would bring total spending for all federal food-safety programs to $817 million for the fiscal year that starts October 1.

The plan was motivated by this year's outbreaks across the United States of food-borne illness from tainted Guatemalan raspberries, Louisiana oysters and Midwestern ground beef.

  • January 1997: 400 people become ill in Louisiana after eating tainted oysters from that state's waters.
  • August 1997: A Hudson Foods processing plant in Columbus, Nebraska, recalls 1.2 million pounds of ground-beef patties tainted with E. coli bacteria that made at least 16 people ill. Hudson later recalls 25 million additional pounds of hamburger after inspectors find bacterial contamination.
  • March 1997: A Special Olympics event in Michigan serves shortcakes topped with strawberries later found to be tainted. At least 150 cases of hepatitis A are linked to the berries.
  • July 1996: Guatemalan raspberries are blamed for sickening some U.S. and Canadian residents.
  • The additional money reportedly would be used to hire new scientists and up to 100 new inspectors who would be sent overseas to examine farming, including the use of fertilizers and pesticides. The money would also be used to buy new equipment to detect food-borne diseases.

    "What we are trying to do is take the agencies that deal with food inspection from the 19th century to the 21st century," an unidentified senior White House official told The New York Times. "We are carrying out the first update of our food-safety programs in 90 years."

    Critics accuse the government of belatedly addressing a problem that has been worsening for years, because of an explosion of fruit and vegetable imports and lax enforcement of laws governing sanitation at feedlots, slaughterhouses and packinghouses.

    Beef from a processing plant in Nebraska was found this year to be tainted with E. coli bacteria.  

    "It is good that they are funding new inspectors for overseas, but they haven't begun to grapple with the fact that they need new inspectors for domestic produce and seafood," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer group.

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