Schumer calls for a director of food safety oversight

Source of Article:,0,3760869.story


9:43 PM EDT, April 22, 2009

Spurred by back-to-back food scares and outbreaks that have sickened and killed people across the country, Sen. Charles Schumer will Thursday introduce legislation to tighten the nation's food safety network and protect the food supply.

He is calling for a new senior-level director at the Department of Commerce to take the lead on governmentwide policies that involve the nation's food supply. Although he did not call the position a "food safety czar," his proposal would bring the country a giant step in that direction.

The new director would focus solely on food safety and coordinate the activities of agencies now charged with protecting the food supply.

With scares involving E. coli, salmonella and dozens of other organisms, consumers need to know that food safety is an uppermost concern at the highest level of government, he said.

"The bottom line is we must do a better job of policing our food-supply chain. We must focus more on inspection, investigation and enforcement to root out unsanitary and unsafe food manufacturing and packaging facilities both in the United States and abroad," Schumer said.

Voicing concern about tainted peanut butter, President Barack Obama last month announced the creation of the food safety working group, an interagency effort to help overhaul the system. Schumer said his bill is a step in that direction.

For years, policy analysts and legislators have bemoaned the patchwork of agencies now charged with food safety and security, but little has been done since the beginning of the past century.

"Food safety is currently spread among numerous federal agencies," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and Homeland Security - among others - play roles in food inspection.

"The approach suggested by Sen. Schumer is certainly unique but I think any reorganization should wait until there's been some review and findings by President Obama's food safety working group," DeWaal said.

But Schumer added that putting a director in the Commerce Department makes sense because that agency deals with trade and businesses. Food distribution has increasingly become a trade and production issue, he contends. Often, produce cannot be easily traced as was the case with tainted jalapeĆĀ±os last year.

Schumer's bill, which has no equivalent in the House of Representatives, is the first to address major food safety concerns in the wake of a string of tainted foods over the past 18 months. Nearly 700 people in 46 states were sickened in the recent peanut scare and nine died.

Called the Imported and Domestic Product Safety Act, the measure also calls for a coordinating council comprised of senior government officials.





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