Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Edwards to Elevate Food Safety Issues into National Debate

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards today called for sweeping reforms to increase the safety of the nation's food supply.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Edwards called for all authority for federal food safety inspection to be shifted to the Food and Drug Administration, creating one central regulatory authority to be responsible for overseeing food safety in the United States.

Edwards also called for the implementation of the mandatory country-of-origin labeling law that was passed more than five years ago but was never put into effect. The time is right for these issues to be elevated to the level of a national debate, he said.

"Food safety is a very serious issue for America," said Edwards. "It's time, I believe, that we stop giving in to big agribusiness and food importers, stop delays in laws that provide for food safety. That means, specifically, that we need to have mandatory country-of-origin labeling, and it needs to be implemented and put in place. It was passed five years ago but has been repeatedly delayed by special interests."

With recent reports of contaminated pet food, livestock feed, seafood and other problems, Edwards said that we've heard enough about bad food products coming into the United States, particularly from China, and it's obvious that this is a very serious issue for the safety of the American consumer. "Particularly because of the fact that we eat more imported food now than ever," said Edwards. "The average American is eating about 260 pounds of imported foods a year. We're inspecting about 1 percent, which is clearly not adequate. For country-of-origin labeling, a law has already been passed; it needs to be enforced beginning immediately."

"The second thing is, we ought to overhaul our (food safety) agencies, which I think are really a jumble," he said. That means "consolidating responsibility for food safety in the FDA, so that we have one agency that's responsible for overseeing food safety in America. And we also need to give the FDA the power they need to do their job effectively. Which includes the capacity to actually get food off the shelves that they think is dangerous."

Food inspections are currently handled by a number of federal regulatory agencies, including the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, causing the need for changes, Edwards said.

"The problem now is, I think if I remember correctly, we have about 15 different agencies that have responsibility for regulating some part of our food supply. They're enforcing between 30 and 35 different laws. One example is you have different agencies that are responsible for regulating meat lasagna versus vegetable lasagna. You know, an open-faced ham-and-cheese sandwich is inspected by the USDA, and a closed-faced ham-and-cheese sandwich is inspected by the FDA. This makes no sense. Which is typical, I might add, of the problems with bureaucracy in the federal government. But in this specific area, it has the potential to create real problems for the safety of Americans. So what we want to do is consolidate that in the FDA so that they know that they have responsibility for the food inspection system. We need to beef up the agency. We need to give the FDA, just one regulatory body, a very clear responsibility for making sure that our food is safe. And that way, it's not being spread among other agencies and there's no cracks that exist."

The low number of inspections of imported food are also a concern for Edwards. "At the ports, as I mentioned earlier, only about 1 percent of our food in being inspected. That's down from about 8 percent over the course of the last 10 to 15 years. That inspection rate needs to be significantly increased. And we also need to make sure we're working more effectively with other countries around the world who are helping us with food inspections." Edwards said that at least 10 percent of imported food should be inspected.

Edwards emphasized the importance of food safety issues not only to Iowa farmers but to consumers all across the nation. However, he discussed some of the rural and agricultural proposals that he will push to the forefront in his presidential campaign.

"I do believe there are some very specific things we need to do to help family farmers. Specifically, that includes enforcing our anti-trust laws against anti-competitive mergers and unfair pricing. We need a very strong national ban on packer ownership of livestock, so that we can stop the spread of large corporate ag interests. I also think we need a national moratorium on the construction and expansion of hog farm lagoons, which I know is important to Iowans and very important to my state of North Carolina. And finally, we ought to help family farmers by limiting farm subsidies to $250,000 per person and also closing some of the loopholes that have been taken advantage of in payment limits. Beyond that, I've also proposed a number of things to help rural America, like getting capital to small businesses that are operating or starting up in rural America. Building out broadband, giving incentives to teachers who are willing to locate in small towns, a whole range of things that I think can help strengthen rural America. I think I have a very strong not only farm agenda for family farmers, but a comprehensive agenda for rural America."

No comments: