US giving too much food safety control to foreign countries

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By Rory Harrington, 29-Jul-2009

The United States is giving away too much control to some foreign countries over food safety as trade concerns over-ride health issues, a leading US politician has said.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro made the comments as she called for the US Department of Agriculture to reform its system for the granting of meat imports. The Democrat representative for Connecticut, who chairs the congressional committee in charge of appropriating funds to the USDA, said the current arrangements ceded too much control to overseas authorities.

"I think we need to take a hard look" at overhauling the way the United States deems other nations' food safety rules equivalent to the U.S. system”’ she said. “When you grant equivalency, you lose most of the control of the process.”

She challenged the wisdom of a USDA’s decision taken a few years ago to allow imports of poultry from China. She said that recent Chinese food scandals made her question whether US importers could be sure the meat had been properly cooked in the first place.

DeLauro’s committee has stopped the USDA from giving Chinese poultry imports the go-ahead and urged the ban continue into next year. A bill, which currently awaits Senate approval, would insist on special inspections before the imports were permitted.

Opponents of the ban – including a coalition of US meat companies – fear the measure could trigger economic reprisals from China – which has already lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The group includes major meat processors and producering companies such as Tyson, Sanderson Farms and Pilgrim’s Pride.

Coalition spokesman and lawyer Kevin Bosch said: "We will not be able to avoid a serious trade confrontation with China if Congress does not reconsider.”

During the hearing, other members of the committee expressed concerns over the safety of meat imports, with two consumer groups called for more inspections on foreign plants.

Consumer group Public Citizen said Japan and Europe had “gone one better” and had their own overseas inspectors as well as carrying out a greater number of border re-inspections.


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