Food Companies Fighting Bioterror Regs

CSPI Says Rules Should Protect Food Supply, Not Pamper Industry

May 6, 2003

WASHINGTON—The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should take maximum advantage of its new authority to guard against intentional contamination of food, according to the nonprofit food-safety watchdog, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). As the FDA prepares to release two more proposed regulations required by last year’s anti-bioterrorism legislation, CSPI said that food-industry complaints about the new rules are trivial in comparison to the prospect of a terrorist attack via the food supply.

“It’s unseemly that the food industry is complaining about regulations designed to protect Americans from bioterrorism,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “It took the tragedy of September 11 to get the airline industry to install stronger cockpit doors. Why wait around for an attack on the food supply when we can focus on preventing one in the first place?”

In January, FDA published draft regulations requiring domestic and foreign food plants to register with the agency and requiring food importers to give FDA advance notice before shipments arrive at ports or border crossings. Soon, the FDA is scheduled to publish a proposed rule that would let the agency detain shipments that it believes to be contaminated, as well as a rule requiring companies to keep better records. The food industry has claimed that the record-keeping and prior-notice provisions in particular are too burdensome, while CSPI maintains that the Bioterrorism Act intended for FDA to be able to trace contaminated food either back to its source or forward to its ultimate destination.

“We’ve already seen how many people can be sickened or killed by unintentional contamination of the food supply, particularly from imported produce,” said DeWaal, who pointed to food-poisoning outbreaks linked to raspberries from Guatemala and cantaloupes from Mexico. “It doesn’t take a genius to see how much sickness and death an intentional attack could wreak. Some food companies might find these rules inconvenient, but they are desperately needed to safeguard the public.”

Congress enacted the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Prevention and Response Act in 2002. FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan recently told The New York Times that he was surprised that the FDA had not previously had clear authority before to guard against food-related bioterrorism.


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