THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
THE PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES NEW MEASURES TO PREVENT UNSAFE FOOD FROM ENTERING OUR BORDERS July 3, 1999
In his weekly radio address, the President will announce several new measures to prevent "bad actor" food importers from bringing unsafe food into the United States. The President will direct the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury to take several steps, including to: (1) prevent "port shopping," in which importers whose cargo is denied entry at one port try to introduce the unsafe food at another port; (2) require the destruction of imported food that poses a serious public health threat; and (3) increase the bond that importers must post, as a way to deter illegal imports of unsafe food. The President will call for passage of a comprehensive imported food safety bill, such as the one introduced by Senators Mikulski, Kennedy, and Durbin and Representative Eshoo, which would increase the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) authority to prevent unsafe food from ever reaching our borders. Finally, the President will call for full funding of his food safety initiative budget request and support for legislation, sponsored by Senator Harkin, to give the Department of Agriculture (USDA) the power to recall tainted foods and impose civil penalties.
Presidential Directive to Take Action to Prevent the Importation of Unsafe Foods. Data from the FDA show that the number of imported food entries has doubled over the past seven years and that, based on recent trends, imports are expected to increase by an additional 30 percent by 2002. Imported foods (other than most meat and poultry products) are regulated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. After posting a bond with U.S. Customs, importers may take possession of imported foods while FDA determines whether the product should be allowed entry into the United States, and if necessary, conducts laboratory tests. This procedure helps prevent congestion at ports of entry, but some unscrupulous importers have abused it by distributing and selling imported food products before FDA has completed its review, resulting in adulterated and misbranded products being introduced into domestic commerce.
Today, consistent with our international obligations, the President will direct the Secretaries of HHS and Treasury to report back within 90 days on the available steps they will take to:
(1) Prevent distribution of imported unsafe food by means such as
requiring food to be held until reviewed by FDA. Requiring food to be held in a secure storage facility until released by FDA will prevent "bad actor" importers from distributing and selling potentially unsafe imported food before FDA has completed its review;
(2) Destroy imported food that poses a serious public health threat.
Requiring destruction of such food will protect American consumers by removing the goods from commerce (thus preventing their re-entry at another port) and will also protect consumers around the world by preventing importers from exporting the contaminated foods to other countries;
(3) Prohibit "port shopping"-- in which importers whose cargo is
denied entry at one port try to introduce it at another -- though a new FDA requirement to mark shipping containers and/or papers of imported food that is denied admission for safety reasons. The unsafe food will be clearly marked, "Refused U.S.";
(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. Increasing the bond amount will prevent unscrupulous importers from forfeiting the bond amount (which is currently based only on the wholesale value of the shipment), selling the shipment before FDA completes its review, and turning a significant profit anyway; and
(6) Enhance enforcement for violations of United States laws related
to the importation of foods, including the imposition of civil monetary penalties.
Food Safety Initiative and Legislation. The President also will call on Congress to provide full funding for his requested $72 million increase for the food safety initiative, which will support a variety of measures including: enabling FDA to hire new inspectors to inspect at least annually every domestic manufacturer of high-risk food products; permitting USDA to assist states in order to create a seamless national inspection program; enabling FDA to more than double the number of inspections conducted of foreign food processors; and allowing the agencies to expand research to develop more effective ways of testing for and identifying dangerous contaminants such as Salmonella and Cyclospora.
The House-passed Agricultural Appropriations bill fails to fund $27 million of the much-needed requested increase, and the Senate Appropriations Committee bill fails to fund $18 million of the requested increase.
The President also will call on Congress to pass two vital pieces of legislation to improve the safety of the nation's food supply. One bill, sponsored by Senators Mikulski, Kennedy, and Durbin and Representative Eshoo, will ensure that imports of fruits, vegetables, and other food products meet U.S. food safety requirements or provide the same level of protection as is required for U.S. products. The second bill, sponsored by Senator Harkin, will give USDA the authority to issue mandatory recalls and impose civil penalties for unsafe meat and poultry.