View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 3, 1999
                      RADIO ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT
                              TO THE NATION

                            The Roosevelt Room

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This Independence Day at backyard barbecues and picnics in local parks, Americans celebrate the spirit of patriotism that has strengthened our nation for 223 years now. Today, I want to talk about what we must do to ensure that the food we serve at those gatherings is as safe as we can possibly make it, to keep our nation growing healthy, as well as strong.

Our food supply is the most bountiful in the world. And for six and a half years, our administration has been committed to making it the safest in the world -- from establishing a nationwide early warning system for food-borne illness, to expanding food safety research and public education programs, to increasing inspections of food at every point in the chain of production.

Last year, I established a Joint Institute for Food Safety Research and appointed the first-ever President's Council on Food Safety to coordinate and expand food safety efforts at every level of the federal government. I'm proud of the progress we're making, but when it comes to keeping our families safe, we can always do more -- and we must.

Today, Americans eat more imported food than ever before, and they have more choices than ever. Think of it: Thirty years ago, just a dozen kinds of fruits and vegetables were available year-round. Today, you could buy a different kind of fruit or vegetable every day of the year, and many were grown on the other side of the world. There's no evidence that these fruits and vegetables are less safe than those grown here in the United States. But some recent outbreaks of food-borne illness have been traced in imported foods.

Our import laws are very clear: We will not allow unsafe food to enter the United States. But a recent GAO report showed that some importers are sidestepping our laws and getting contaminated food across our borders and onto our kitchen tables. While most importers comply with our regulations, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch, only one shipment of contaminated food to threaten hundreds, even thousands of Americans.

That is why today, consistent with our international obligations, I'm directing the Treasury Department and the Health and Human Services Department to take immediate action to keep unsafe food from crossing our borders. First, we will take new steps to stop port shopping -- preventing importers whose unsafe food has been turned away at one U.S. port from slipping their goods in at another. To make sure this unsafe food can be easily spotted, we will stamp all rejected food with the clear label, "Refused U.S."

Second, Customs and the FDA will rigorously enforce and expand our policy of destroying imported food that poses a serious health threat rather than risk letting it reach our grocery stores or the global market.

Third, we'll do more to deter dishonest importers by increasing the bond they must post while food is being inspected for safety. Too many importers forfeit their bonds as a simple cost of doing business. That's wrong and we should stop it. These steps will help us to close the gaps in our food safety system.

But Congress must also act. I'm grateful for the presence here today of Congressman Dingell and Congressman Brown. Congress should start by passing comprehensive food safety legislation that would increase the FDA's authority to turn away imported food that does not meet our high safety standards. And Congress should grant USDA the authority to impose civil penalties and to order mandatory recalls of unsafe meat and poultry.

Finally, Congress should fully fund my $72-million Food Safety Initiative to increase the number of agents and inspections of high-risk food products right here at home, and increase the number of inspections of foreign food processors around the world.

Americans have a right to know that the food they serve their families is safe -- whether it comes from the far corners of the world or the corner produce stand. I'm pleased that so many members of Congress are committed to giving them that security. I appreciate the initiatives, especially, of Senator Durbin and Representatives Dingell and Brown, along with Senators Mikulski, Kennedy, Harkin, Collins, and Representatives Eshoo and Waxman. I look forward to working with all members of Congress of both parties to build a stronger nation with a healthier food supply for the 21st century.

Have a happy and healthy 4th of July, and thanks for listening.