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Article | December 31, 1998
Clinton serves up food safety (sidebar)
President's Council: A catch-all for ideas
There have been all sorts of suggestions offered at the three meetings held around the U.S. by the President's Council on Food Safety. The Council is supposed to advise President Clinton on recommendations made in the NRC report called "Ensuring Food Safety." But those recommendations were extremely general and to some vague. Brian Folkerts vice president of government affairs at the National Food Processors Assn. says that lack of clarity gives the President's Council "very wide latitude." As a result different citizen's groups are pushing notions that do not appear anywhere in the NRC's recommendations. At a meeting in Washington DC on October 20 Caroline Smith Dewaal director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest suggested charging food plants an annual fee as part of a registration program. The revenue would be used to hire additional Food and Drug Administration inspectors. Right now companies who process and package foods regulated by the FDA may be inspected as infrequently as once every 10 years. That compares with at least once a year for meat processors. "Why is it that General Mills or Kellogg doesn't have to be registered with the federal government" Dewaal asked? Pam Becker spokeswoman for General Mills says her company has deployed an array of food safety assurance systems such as voluntary third-party audits. It is in the company's interest for numerous reasons to make sure its packaged products are safe to eat when they reach the consumer. "Anyway there is no evidence that more FDA inspections translate into safer food products" she states. Moreover she contests the "once every 10 years" statistic used by Caroline Dewaal. "In the past two years every one of General Mills' food processing plants has had multiple on-site regulatory contacts" she explains. Heather Klinkhammer a member of a group called Safe Tables our Priority suggested requiring companies to indicate on their labels the "origin" of their product. That would help in situations where sandwiches beef patties and other single portion products are packed and shipped in corrugated paper boxes which contain the "origin" label. But those corrugated paper boxes are thrown away once a supermarket puts the single-serve product on the store shelf. Klinkhammer also lobbied for allowing companies to advertise food technologies including new types of packaging on their food labels. "That would allow companies to compete with one another on levels of safety" she explained. The National Research Council recommendation which got the most ink was one urging Congress to establish a "unified and central framework for managing federal food safety programs one that is headed by a single official..." Again the NRC wasn't quite explicit on what it meant. But some took this to be backing for a new federal agency. Food industry trade associations think that is a terrible idea. "Arbitrarily reorganizing the government-tempting as that might be-will not make our food supply safer" says Stacey Zawel vice president scientific and regulatory affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
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