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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 3, 1999

July 3, 1999

                     THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY

                  SUBJECT:  Safety of Imported Foods

While the United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world, outbreaks of foodborne illness are still all too prevalent. Millions of Americans are stricken by illness each year from foods they consume, and thousands, mostly the very young and the elderly, die as a result. The threats come from a variety of sources, including both imported and domestically produced foods.

Foodborne illness is difficult to control in a changing world. Consumers enjoy a greater variety of foods than they did 50 years ago, including a greater emphasis on food from all around the world. Americans also eat more foods prepared outside their homes, such as foods prepared in grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and day care centers. We also are seeing the emergence of new foodborne pathogens such as the highly virulent E. Coli O157:H7.

For these reasons, my Administration has made food safety a high priority. I have requested substantial annual increases to fund food safety initiatives such as a nationwide early warning system for foodborne illness, increased inspections, and the expansion of food safety research, risk assessment, and education. In January of 1997, I directed the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to identify specific steps to improve the safety of the food supply. In October of 1997, I expanded my initiative to provide special emphasis on the safety of domestic and imported fruits and vegetables. Last year at this time, I announced the creation of a Joint Institute for Food Safety Research (JIFSR) to develop a strategic plan for conducting food safety research and efficiently coordinating all Federal food safety research. In August of 1998, I issued an Executive order to create the President's Council on Food Safety, which is charged with (1) developing a comprehensive plan for all Federal food safety activities, (2) advising agencies of food safety priorities and developing coordinated food safety budgets, and (3) overseeing the JIFSR. We have made significant steps domestically to help ensure the safety of our food supply.

Today, I am expanding my Administration's food safety efforts even further to focus on the safety of imported foods. While the majority of imported food is safe, problems do exist. These problems are the result of two major changes. At the turn of the century, relatively few foods were imported, but today, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the importation of foods. Imports have doubled over the past 7 years and, based on recent trends, we expect at least an additional 30 percent increase by 2002. Finished and fully packaged food products account for an increasing proportion of all imported foods and there has been a huge increase in fresh produce from all over the world.

While there is no evidence that imported foods pose more of a risk than domestic foods and most importers comply with the applicable requirements, there are a few "bad actor" importers who violate the rules and work to subvert the system. We must give the agencies responsible for food safety the tools necessary to deal with the importers who try to break the rules. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspects domestic facilities, it has, in conjunction with the United States Customs Service (Customs), relied primarily on border inspection to ensure the safety of imported foods.

I recognize that there are limitations on our resources and statutory authority to take measures to protect consumers against unsafe imported foods. Indeed, there are currently bills before the Congress that would grant explicit authority to improve the safety of imported foods. I applaud these legislative efforts and will continue to work with the Congress to improve our authority and resources.

Nevertheless, consistent with our international obligations, we must take whatever scientifically based steps we can to protect the public health in this area and provide the necessary tools to ensure the safety of imported food. Specifically, I direct you to take all actions available to:

(1) Prevent distribution of imported unsafe food by means such as

requiring food to be held until reviewed by FDA;

(2) Destroy imported food that poses a serious public health threat;

(3) Prohibit the reimportation of food that has been previously

       refused admission and has not been brought into compliance with
       United States laws and regulations (so called "port shopping"),
       and require the marking of shipping containers and/or papers of
       imported food that is refused admission for safety reasons;

(4) Set standards for private laboratories for the collection and

       analysis of samples of imported food for the purpose of gaining
       entry into the United States;

(5) Increase the amount of the bond posted for imported foods when

       necessary to deter premature and illegal entry into the United
       States; and

(6) Enhance enforcement against violations of United States laws

       related to the importation of foods, including through the
       imposition of civil monetary penalties.

Accordingly, I direct you, in consultation with my Food Safety Council and relevant Federal agencies, particularly the Department of Agriculture and the United States Trade Representative, to report back to me within 90 days on the steps you will take in these areas to protect consumers from unsafe imported foods. We must do all that we can to protect Americans from unsafe food.


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