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Experts Say Food Safety is Not Adequate - 2002-04-24

The September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington have led to fears of a bioterror attack on U.S. food supplies. Experts in food security say that despite attention on the problem not enough is being done to protect American consumers.

U.S. Congressman John Dingell has been fighting to boost U.S. food safety for several decades. The Democrat from Michigan told a gathering of the lobby-group Consumer Federation of America Tuesday the tragic events of September 11 offer an opportunity for progress. "We know that something as important as strengthening the nation's food safety system is not going to be an easy task but the difference now is that the issue is finally getting the attention which it has been in need of from both proponents and opponents of strong safety measures. My hope," he said, "is that this attention will translate into vigorous action."

It is estimated that less than one percent of imported fresh fruits and vegetables are inspected before entering the U.S. food supply.

Congressman Dingell said that often when food is denied entry it is re-imported at another port. He said one-third of the U.S. food supply comes from outside the country, but that inspectors are too few and possess inadequate technology.

Within U.S. borders, food policy analyst Eric Schlosser said the meat industry is especially vulnerable to possible tampering. Mr. Schlosser said, "If there is a vulnerability, if you look at the enormous turnover in our meat packing plants it's not dissimilar from the enormous turnover in our airport security officers so ideally a stable workforce throughout the food industry would make this risk lower."

Former U.S. presidential candidate George McGovern, who also spoke to the consumer group, presented the argument that if the world's population was properly fed, maybe there would be less of a terror threat. The former liberal politician is currently the United Nations Global Ambassador on Hunger. "The President asked Congress for $20 billion to fight terrorism. The Congress responded with $40 billion. So maybe there's a few bucks somewhere in that $40 billion that we could allocate to reducing hunger and misery in the world."

Congressman Dingell is currently leading efforts to include vigorous food safety measures in a bioterror bill, while Ambassador McGovern is promoting the concept of a global school lunch program.