Feds Bite Into Food Safety

To ensure the nation's food supply is safe from terrorists, the Food and Drug Administration has announced it will increase inspections of imported food this year.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson visited The Early Show to discuss the steps that will be taken and a set of new proposed regulations to keep food safe. The FDA will implement the proposed new measures.

Thompson says the FDA will conduct five times the number of imported food inspections this year than it did two years ago — rising steadily from 12,000 in 1991 to 62,000 this year.

Also, he says, the FDA will inspect more than twice the number of ports of entry this year — from 40 to 90 inspections. To see that the quotes are met, the FDA hired more than 650 additional people for food security and safety, according to Thompson.

Thompson says new regulations, which are not in effect yet, are being fine-tuned now. They cover the following:

  • All food, made domestically or imported, must be registered with the FDA.
  • The FDA must receive notification of imports by noon the day before they are expected to arrive.
  • Procedure for holding suspicious shipments.
  • Registration requirements for companies.

    Thompson says that with the new regulations, food makers would have to keep records of where they bought ingredients and where they shipped their final products. Though primarily a terrorism prevention measure, he says, this also could help fight unintentional food poisoning by requiring food companies to provide the FDA with records within eight hours of suspecting their products were tainted.

    The food industry has said it would like to cooperate to prevent terrorism, but it is worried the regulations could be too cumbersome and cause gridlock in the system.

    Some have questioned if there will be sufficiently funding to implement the program. Thompson says the FDA's 2004 food safety budget is $166 million, increased from $97 million for this year. But a Washington Post report said the registration program would cost $336 million the first year.

    The U.S. agricultural enterprise is a $200 billion business with over $55 billion in exports each year.