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Protecting America's Food and Implementing Country-of-Origin Labeling

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Protecting America's Food and Implementing Country-of-Origin Labeling

"Enough is enough. It's time to stop the delays and stop giving in to big agribusiness and food importers. We need to give Americans the information they need to choose the best, and safest, food for their families." - John Edwards

In recent weeks, a series of tainted products from China have exposed gaps in America's food safety protections. Today, John Edwards outlined his plan to make food safer by taking on the big food companies and food importers on behalf of American consumers and producers. First he would finally implement country-of-origin labeling so families can learn the source of their food and have the option of choosing domestically-raised and grown food. He would also strengthen the Food and Drug Administration's oversight over the safety of American and imported food.

* Neglect of Food Safety: Breakdowns in food safety cause 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths each year in the U.S. The General Accountability Office recently added our nation's food safety system to its list of "high-risk" operations. [CDC, 2007; GAO, 2007]

* Growing Reliance on Food Imports: Americans eat about 260 pounds of imported foods a year, on average, and the Food and Drug Administration inspects only 0.7 percent of imported food products. Following reports of tainted pet food, contaminated livestock feed and seafood, China recently admitted that 180 food processing facilities had been caught putting industrial additives into a range of food products. An investigation found 23,000 food-safety infractions. Unfortunately, the recent wave of tainted products from China is only the latest in a series of import-related crises over the last decade. Hundreds or more people became sick from Guatemalan raspberries in 1996, Mexican strawberries in 1997, Mexican cantaloupes in 2000, and Mexican green onions in 2003. [AP, 4/16/07; NY Times, 4/30/07; WSJ, 6/30/07; CSPI, 2007]

* Agribusinesses Blocking Country-of-Origin Labels and Other Food Safety Steps: Five years ago, Congress passed a law giving consumers the right to know where their meat, produce and nuts came from. However, implementation of the law has been repeatedly delayed by special interests. The USDA is now preparing to allow chickens raised, slaughtered, and cooked in China to be sold here without labels showing their origin. [Center for Food Safety, 2007; Boston Globe, 5/9/07]

Keeping Food Safe

To strengthen America's food safety, Edwards will make sure that, with country-of-origin labels, consumers can discover the origin of their food. He will overhaul the jumble of agencies overseeing America's food safety by consolidating responsibility in the FDA and giving it the power to get unsafe food off the shelves. Finally, he will promote the safety of food imported into the U.S. by increasing inspections at ports and by working with other nations to strengthen their own inspection systems.

* Providing Consumers with Country-of-Origin Information: Despite increasing concern about the safety of imports from countries like China and interesting buying local produce, implementation of country-of-origin labels has been twice blocked by large meat packers, agribusiness lobbyists and retailers like Wal-Mart. Consumers are not required to be told where these categories of food come from. As president, Edwards will end the delays and start enforcing mandatory country-of- origin labeling, giving Americans the information they need to choose the best food for their families. This will also help domestic farmers and ranchers by giving consumers the option of choosing safe, American-raised meat, and it will motivate foreign producers to make safety a priority and move our food supply system toward fuller accountability for the safety of what we eat. [USDA, 2007; The Hill, 4/7/05; National Family Farm Coalition, 2007]

* Integrating Food Safety Rules and Enforcement: Fifteen different agencies are charged with regulating some part of our food supply, enforcing 35 different laws. Different agencies regulate meat lasagna and vegetable lasagna. An open-faced ham-and-cheese sandwich is inspected by the USDA while a closed-face ham-and-cheese sandwich is inspected by the FDA. The USDA and FDA inspect imported food at 18 U.S. ports, sometimes in separate facilities and generally without sharing assets. President Bush's solution—a "czar" with the bureaucratic rank of assistant commissioner—is not nearly enough. Edwards will strengthen the FDA and rebuild our food inspection system within the beefed-up agency, giving one regulatory body clear responsibility for ensuring the security and safety of the food we eat. [National Academy of Sciences, 1998; GAO, 2007; CSPI, 2007; Government Executive, 6/19/07]

* Getting Unsafe Food off the Shelves: Unlike the Consumer Products Safety Commission, neither the USDA nor the FDA has the power to order mandatory recalls of the food products they inspect. The agencies are not even equipped to monitor how well companies carry out voluntary recalls. Edwards will establish the power to order mandatory recalls and provide the resources to make sure they are quickly carried out. [GAO, 2007]

* Increasing Inspections of Imports: Less than 1 percent of imported food is inspected, down from 8 percent in 1992. Eighty percent of imported food automatically bypasses inspection. Following the recent wave of tainted imports, big corporations are scaling up their inspections of Chinese products, but American families have no choice to rely on an under-resourced and neglected government agency. Edwards will provide the resources for the FDA to do its job. [NY Times, 5/16/07; NY Times, 7/1/07; GAO, 1998]

* Requiring Safety Systems Abroad: The U.S. cannot put inspectors in all of the 130 countries that sell us food, but we can insist that these nations take their responsibilities seriously. Edwards will require countries exporting food to the U.S. to have safety systems certified by the FDA as equivalent to our own. This level of protection is now given only to meat, poultry and egg products. This added protection will supplement, not replace, inspections by U.S. officials at ports of entry. [CSM, 5/807; GAO, 2004]

Building on Edwards' Agenda for Family Farmers: Today's announcement builds on earlier efforts to create fairness for family farmers and help them create a healthy, abundant and safe food supply:

* Strictly enforcing laws against anticompetitive mergers and unfair pricing.

* Passing a national ban on packer ownership to stop the spread of large corporate hog interests.

* Passing a national moratorium on the construction and expansion of hog farm lagoons.

* Limiting farm subsidies to $250,000 per person and closing loopholes in payment limits.

* Expanding conservation programs that help farmers preserve the land.

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